Life of Robert E. Lee as General in the Confederate Army
Henry E. Shepherd
LEE AT LEXINGTON
The war was over, the South lay prostrate, our battle-flags were furled, and never saw the Southern sun until they emerged from the vaults of the War Department in accordance with a special act of Congress for their restoration, in March, 1905. Here as in every phase of his active and varied life, Lee's first thought was the general welfare, the happiness and security of the land into whose cause he had thrown his soul with a devotion and fervor that was only intensified, not abated by disaster or defeat. His own example was an object lesson for his countrymen. There was no unmanly plaint, no note of repining, above all, no abasement of self before the high places of the conqueror. He recognized the profound and far-reaching principle that physical power can never constitute a criterion of truth, and that the mere triumph of material force can never determine the righteousness or the equity of a controversy the germinal principles of which may be traced to the very origin of our life as a people whose autonomy was established by his own great prototype, George Washington. In an epoch and country in which brute force is rapidly becoming the prevailing standard of right, and national faith has faded into a tradition, and become almost a mockery, the attitude of Lee, a pillar steadfast in the storm, is invaluable as an ethical teaching, an example to the contemporary time, an admonition to the ages that are hidden behind the veil. Not a word or intimation ever fell from the lips of Lee which implied that he deplored his course, or regarded the attitude of the South as mistaken or unwise, because it had been overwhelmed by disaster, as if defeat and overthrow were the logical and inevitable expression of a providential retribution. That most dangerous and insidious of sophistries, might is a test of right, could find not even an ephemeral lodgment in the soul of Lee. Still, his course of action was marked by absolute dignity, moderation, and self-restraint in all the exigencies, the unforeseen problems, the unprecedented conditions that developed with the effacement of our Southern life, and the substitution of strange gods upon our hallowed altars. It was the relentless aim of the conqueror to remove all the landmarks set by the fathers of our civilization.
Never in the annals of nations has there been placed before the world so violent and remorseless a rending of historic continuity. Through the stress and tension of those years of anarchy and chaos his attitude was unvarying and clearly defined. There was no touch of Quixotism, no note of fantasy. He urged conciliation and moderation, he advised submission in good faith to the inevitable, he strove to secure employment, the means of subsistence for worthy Confederate soldiers; he exerted his energies and his vast moral influence to restore the waste places, and efface the desolation wrought by war. But for the cohesive moral power exercised during the fearful episode of reconstruction by the survivors of Lee's army the civilization of the South would have undergone a process of fatal disintegration, the solidarity of our social as well as our political life would have dissolved into fragments; we should have descended to the deeps of chronic anarchy. That the South escaped this climax of debasement to which it was the avowed and relentless purpose of her enemies to reduce her, may be attributed
in large measure to the salutary restraint, the wise self-control, the genius for organized action, the critical temper that takes occasion by the hand, so eminently displayed by her leaders during the agony of that day. We stood upon the verge of the precipice; it was the skill and sagacity of the men trained in the school of Lee, and inspired by the power of his example, that rescued us from the impending doom. In the retrospect of years we may apprehend the fatal peril; we do not see save darkly the almost miraculous escape, nor realize except in imperfect measure the authors and the agents of our deliverance.
AS PRESIDENT OF WASHINGTON COLLEGE, NOW WASHINGTON AND LEE UNIVERSITY
The overthrow of the Confederacy left Lee in the attitude of a private citizen, if a prisoner on parole with a charge of treason resting upon his head can be described as a citizen. Notwithstanding his own dubious and undefined position, he threw his vast moral and personal influence into the scale in behalf of peace, in the advocacy of restored order, of good will and kindly sentiment throughout the land. “All should unite,” he writes to Governor Letcher, “in efforts to obliterate the effects of the war, and to restore the blessings of peace. They should remain, if possible, in the country; promote harmony and good feeling, qualify themselves to vote and elect to the State and general legislatures wise and good men, who will devote their abilities to the interests of the country and the healing of all dissensions. I have invariably recommended this course since the cessation of hostilities, and have endeavored to practice it myself.” It was this same Governor Letcher, the well-known war Governor of Virginia, whose home at Lexington was burned by Hunter's troops in June, 1864, the family not even being allowed time, before the torch was applied, to rescue their ancestral portraits and most sacred treasures from the fury of the flames. General Lee was strongly adverse to the proposed migration of Confederates to Mexico or South American lands in which anarchy and unrest are the chronic state. His counsel to all was to remain at home, to stand by the South in the day of her calamity, to consecrate every faculty and energy to the recovery of her material well being, intellectual power, and political autonomy. Those who had devoted their lives to her cause during war should be the last to abandon her and seek their fortunes in novel spheres or untried fields while the land of their nativity lay prostrate at the feet of the conqueror. All his energies were addressed to the task, stupendous and colossal, of reconciling the people of the South to the inevitable fate which the fortune of war had imposed upon them, to inspire confidence, and pluck renewed hope from the very heart of overwhelming disaster. The frank and manly acceptance of the situation, the lack of murmuring or discontent, the prevailing effort to adapt life and labor to a condition in which not only novelty, but absolute transformation fell upon us in a moment and the continuity of our history was broken at a blow, these amazing and unparalleled results, may be attributed in large measure to the self-restraint, wisdom, statesmanship illustrated in the attitude assumed by Lee during the days of darkness. Like his prototype, he had proved himself not only “first in war,” but “first” in the more critical ordeal of “peace” that blotted out for all time the hopes, the dreams, the ideals of a nation. Had the tolerant and enlightened policy that he advocated commended itself to the triumphant government at the national capital, the infamy of reconstruction would never have blighted all hope of restored good will, of genuine harmony, or union save such as is physical, and is maintained by the cohesive power of steel and iron. The shame of those years lies at the door of the conquerors alone.
For some months after the surrender at Appomattox, General Lee sojourned quietly with his wife and daughters at Richmond. It was said at the time that a body of Federal soldiers passing through the city recognized his face as he stood by a window, and cheered him to the echo. City life was not in accord with his tastes and temperament. Like Washington, he regarded the country as the ideal home, and longed for the sweetness and repose which are found in the associations of rural life alone. His Southern origin and education are reflected strikingly in this trait of character, for the charm of our olden society was found in large measure amid plantation scenes, in the hunt and the chase, remote from the streaming roar of great cities. The idyllic flavor of our Southern country homes can be imagined only by the generation which has sprung to life since it passed into irreclaimable shadow. Even in its decay some traces of its ancient light and sweetness still abide. Yet this dream of years was not to be realized even after the rude imperious surge of war had swept over him, and for the first time in all his manifold career he was merely a private citizen. He who had been the inspiration of our armies was to become the inspiration of our youth, and end his life as a college president at Lexington, in the Valley of Virginia. From every point of view such a close was appropriate, harmonious, an ending as seemly and graceful as the climax of a noble drama.
The neglect of the higher culture, indifference to advancement along the lines of scholarly progress, is the persistent and reiterated libel of the critics of the North with regard to the people of the South. The charge is utterly unsustained by the record from the era of our colonial life to the times of which we form a part. The last position of honor and dignity held by Washington was that of Rector of William and Mary College, founded in 1693; his bequests in the interest of education are part of our national history. The comprehensive culture of Thomas Jefferson has no parallel in the history of American statesmanship. His far-reaching mind seemed to take all knowledge for its province; he was the herald of the higher intellectual training in America, and embodied his dream in a concrete form by the creation of the University of Virginia in 1825, then, as in our own day, the inspiration of the exact and specialized phases of scholastic development in the South. Lee stood in the line of succession with the great chiefs of the nation in the interest he had always displayed in the advancement of education, with Washington, Jefferson, and all the sovereign champions of the ancient Southern era. Nor was he devoid of special adaptation in gifts of nature, or in professional experience, that qualified him for his new work. For several years he had been superintendent of the Military Academy at West Point, 1852—1855, and had left the deep impress of his character upon this training school and nursery of the American soldier. The routine at West Point and the whole conception of education was essentially different from that which prevailed in the administration of a typical college, but Lee's versatility of genius could easily adapt itself to conditions however opposed, and he who had inspired the future leaders of the army with pure and heroic ideals could bring the same resistless moral power to bear upon the crude and thoughtless lads who composed the student body now committed to his guidance. It was in the summer of 1865 that he was elected to the presidency of Washington College. After mature deliberation he accepted the offer, and toward the end of September he set out for Lexington alone, mounted upon Traveler, a horse almost as famous as his master, and reached his new home after a journey of four days. There were some among his friends who regarded his acceptance of the position as rather a compromise of dignity—almost a condescension. Not so the General himself. The reputation of the institution was principally local, and in common with all Southern colleges it had been desolated by the pitiless storm of war. Its endowment was in a precarious state, the student body was reduced to a handful, its buildings had felt the touch of Hunter's savage soldiery. From all points of view the situation seemed gloomy, the future unrelieved by hope. Still, the record of the college had from early days been admirable. It had grown from a classical academy known as Liberty Hall to the rank of a college; the excellence of its teaching attracted the notice of Washington, who bestowed upon it a liberal endowment—hence the change of name to Washington College. As academy and as college the institution had always maintained a high scholastic character. If its renown was confined to the country surrounding Lexington, the teaching was marked by thoroughness in every detail. Gen. D. H. Hill was at one time professor of mathematics. The boys who entered the University of Virginia from Washington College, such as the Estills, Fishburnes, Massies, were distinguished by the excellence of their scholarship and the exactness of their training. Upon a commencement occasion, Gov. Henry A. Wise, while addressing the graduating class at the Virginia Military Institute, said, “Now, young gentlemen, you have completed your course here, across the way there is one of the best colleges in Virginia. Go over there and take another course.” The Governor's estimate was correct. Despite the judgment of many of his friends, and the circumstance that places of greater dignity and richer emolument were at his disposal, the General, after mature reflection, did not hesitate. To such a mind, the luster of exalted station, rank, riches offered no charm.
The revival of education in the land over which the war cloud had passed was to be Lee's crowning and consummate work. For four years it had fallen into decadence; the lad in his teens was with Lee in the field; the lecture-room was often transformed into a hospital. The brief term of years remaining to Lee was to be consecrated to the cause of education in the South. And so Lee and Washington College, afterward Washington and Lee University, were linked in harmony. There were many distinctive traits in the character of Lee which rendered him an ideal college president. No wiser selection was ever made in the history of American academic life. There were first, the unvarying regard to system, the soldierly habit of promptness that never failed and that pervaded every sphere of action, the minute observance of detail, the embracing eye that esteemed nothing too insignificant for its inspection or too complex to be assimilated in all its phases and relations. More than these, there was the moral light and charm that cast its radiance about his name. With Lee's accession to the presidency the institution rose like a phœnix, and its fame passed at a bound beyond the circumscribed limits which shielded it from contact with the great centers of life and thought that lay in the untraveled world far from its mountain barriers. Young men who had followed Lee, the boy of fifteen and the vigorous youth who had succumbed to despair six months before at Appomattox, all were there. The adjacent South, and the distant States that lie along the Gulf of Mexico, Maryland at the one extreme, Louisiana and Texas at the other, were present in the academic body drawn to Lexington by the magic spell of the Confederate chief. Even the triumphant North was not unrepresented in the host of students which was attracted to an obscure and unheralded college as by some resistless and invincible force. It would be in every sense erroneous to assume, that Lee had no innate or acquired aptitude for the position of college executive apart from the luster of his name, his professional training, and his strange magnetic power. Though in no technical sense a scholar, his literary sympathies were acute and delicate, his intellectual appreciation fine and discerning. His early associations, especially in Washington, had brought him into cordial alliance with the most cultured element then represented in our public life, notably with Hugh S. Legare, of South Carolina, the crowning type of broad and subtle attainment in the sphere of national politics. The correspondence of Lee reveals in its most unguarded features the tone and style of an educated gentleman, to whom grace and ease of language come as a birth-right or inheritance, not as an acquisition wrought by toil and the arduous struggle against native environment. His lucid and manly English is an antithesis to the diction of Grant with its characteristic confusion of the auxiliaries shall and will, the shibboleth of the uncultured and undiscriminating writer. It is a notable fact in the life of Lee that his nature with its heroic mould and classical grace fusing into harmony, appealed strongly to the imagination of scholars, students of the antique world, imbued with its spirit, who seemed to recognize in our chief a revival, a reappearance of the wise and master lights that are the inspiration and the ideal of the student, the consecration and the dream of the poet. Notably is this power of Lee's over the imagination of the lovers of the classical world illustrated in two instances most worthy of record, especially in connection with his history as a college president.
Some three or four years after the war, Professor George Long, one of the foremost representatives of classical scholarship in England, presented General Lee a copy of the second edition of his “Thoughts of Marcus Aurelius.” The first edition had been appropriated by a Northern publisher, who, in utter disregard of the rights of the translator, dedicated the work to the New England sage and oracle, Ralph Waldo Emerson. So gross a liberty was indignantly resented by Professor Long, who as speedily as possible issued a second edition with the accompanying preface, “I have never dedicated a book to any man, and if I dedicated this, I should choose the man whose name seemed to me most worthy to be joined to that of the Roman soldier and philosopher. I might dedicate the book to the successful general who is now President of the United States, with the hope that his integrity and justice will restore peace and happiness, so far as he can, to those unhappy States which have suffered so much from war, and the unrelenting hostility of wicked men. But as the Roman poet (Lucan) says, ‘Victrix causa deis placuit, sed victa Catoni.’ And if I dedicate this little book to any man, I would dedicate it to him who led the Confederate armies against the powerful invader, and retired from an unequal contest defeated, but not dishonored; to the noble Virginian soldier whose talents and virtues place him by the side of the best and wisest man who sat on the throne of the imperial Cæsars.” Professor Long was an eminent type of that pure and catholic classical attainment which is even in our own time, the distinctive glory of Oxford and Cambridge. In his earlier years he had been professor of ancient languages in the University of Virginia, one of that goodly company of scholars which it was part of the wise and far-reaching policy of Jefferson to associate with the institution whose creation was the last achievement of his broad and versatile genius.
The second edition of Long's “Marcus Aurelius,” with the noble tribute to our hero, has by some mysterious intervention of arbitrary power disappeared from the sight of men. I have the English scholar's edition of the imperial sage, but the preface has vanished, and no one can speak assuredly with regard to its fate. That it was suppressed through the agency of the Government, admits of no question—the only doubt is in reference to the method. “Victrix causa” could not brook the peerless tribute of the English scholar even to a vanquished foe. This, however, was not the only instance in which the finely touched spirit of classical scholarship in our ancestral land recognized in Lee a revival or reappearance of that heroic type which poetry has idealized and romance has glorified in Achilles, in Arthur, in Galahad or in Sidney.
GENERAL LEE'S HOME AT LEXINGTON, VA., WHERE HE LIVED AND DIED
General Lee's admiration for Homer was not the outcome of mere taste, or even the strong bias of an intellect susceptible to the forces through which poetic culture finds expression; it was the touch of nature that brought him into kinship with the genius of the Homeric world, the congenial fellowship in whose company “thought leaped out to wed with thought, ere thought could wed itself with speech.” It was then not a mere chance that Lee should have been more than usually affected by a tribute from another master of classical scholarship in the form of a dedication of his translation of the Iliad of Homer. Philip Stanhope Worsley, Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, forwarded the translation to Lee through the hands of the General's nephew, Mr. Edward Lee Childe, of Paris, the intimate friend of the English scholar. A letter marked by exquisite grace of style and delicacy of thought accompanied the gift, in which the translator set forth the impelling motives that induced him to dedicate the work to Lee. It is evident that the Oxford scholar who lived and moved in the world of antique heroes was drawn to Lee as a kindred soul, the long-sought realization of an unfulfilled ideal. He writes to Mr. Childe:
My Dear Friend: You will allow me in dedicating this work to you, to offer it at the same time as a poor yet not altogether unmeaning tribute of my reverence for your brave and illustrious uncle, General Lee. He is the hero, like Hector in the Iliad, of the most glorious cause for which men can fight, and some of the grandest passages in the poem come to me with yet more affecting power when I remember his lofty character and undeserved misfortunes. The great names that your country has bequeathed from its four lurid years of national life as examples to mankind can never be forgotten, and among these none will be more honored, while history endures, by all true hearts, than that of your noble relative. I need not say more, for I know you must be aware how much I feel the honor of associating my work, however indirectly, with one whose goodness and genius are alike so admirable. Accept this token of my deepest sympathy and regard, and believe me, Ever most sincerely yours,
P. S. Worsley.
The fly-leaf of the volume contained the accompanying inscription,
To General Lee,
The Most Stainless of Living Commanders
And, Except In Fortune, The Greatest,
This Volume Is Presented
With The Writer's Earnest Sympathy
And Respectful Admiration.
The accompanying stanzas, written by the same hand, and reflecting the same pervading grace, were placed immediately below the dedication:
The grand old bard that never dies,
Receive him in our English tongue;
I send thee, but with weeping eyes,
The story that she sung.
Thy Troy is fallen, thy dear land
Is marred beneath the spoiler's heel—
I cannot trust my trembling hand
To write the things I feel.
Ah, realm of tears! but let her bear
This blazon to the end of time;
No nation rose so white and fair,
None fell so pure of crime.
The widow's moan, the orphan's wail,
Come round thee; but in truth be strong—
Eternal right, though all else fail,
Can never be made wrong.
An angel's heart, an angel's mouth,
Not Homer's could alone for me
Hymn well the great Confederate South—
Virginia first, and Lee.
The spontaneous and delicate tribute of the Oxford scholar drew from General Lee a reply characterized by his prevailing grace and courtliness. Homer as Englished by Worsley had gone straight to the heart of him who was the visible embodiment of the heroic dream world. A greater than Hector or Achilles was here: the actual had transcended the ideal, the concrete life the preluding type. Mr. Worsley, then in frail and enfeebled health, received a most cordial invitation to visit the General at Lexington. His version of the ancient epic was the delight of the evening hours in the Lee home. We may feel assured that as our chief of men, the perfect antitype of the heroic vision, read aloud the English rendering, there fell upon the ear a strain and harmony ranging infinitely above the “faint Homeric echoes” which Tennyson, with mock modesty, imputed to his own epic, Morte d' Arthur. If ever the “Ionian father of the rest” “spoke out loud and bold” since the age of his Elizabethan Tenderer, George Chapman, it was when Worsley's version was read at his own fireside and to his own home circle during winter evenings by Robert E. Lee. The verses of Worsley, succeeding the dedication of his Homer to Lee, were reprinted in a special edition by loving and invincible Confederates at Charleston, S.C, all the resources of the typographer's art being called into service to assure grace, beauty, perfection in every phase. I cherish my own copy as a peculiar treasure, a ring of gold linking our hero to that antique world whose votaries and oracles have discovered in him the measure of its greatness. Let us turn from these marks of love and appreciation which the cultured and discerning mind of English scholars was lavishly bestowing upon our chief. Well might he be described in the terms applied by a brother poet to Sir Walter Scott as the “whole world's darling.” The affluent horn of fortune shed her tokens of loving favor upon the head of a hopeless cause, the leader of an army whose flags were furled, the idol of a people whose dreams and longing had passed forever, it might be, into the despairing agony which forty years ago rested upon the heart of the South. Those lights of the European world who from their renowned abodes of learning singled him out as the object of their homage, might well apply to themselves and to the prompting of their action toward the peerless soul that dwelt apart, the words of one of Tennyson's heroes, “For the deed's sake have I done the deed.” Never was homage more spontaneous, tribute more ardent, than that rendered by masters of the classical realm to a vanquished leader, a paroled prisoner, and a traitor in the sight of the law.
Lee became more and more absorbed in the complex routine involved in the care and oversight of the college. He strove to establish friendly relations with each student, to assure every one of his personal interest in his welfare, moral and material and intellectual. To the expansion of her educational ideals and the uplifting of her intellectual life he looked as the effective and only means of restoring the South to her former dignity and influence in the confederation of States. His scheme of educational development embraced every phase of the far-reaching subject. “The thorough education of all classes of the people is the most efficacious means, in my opinion, of promoting the welfare of the South. The material interests of its citizens, as well as their moral and intellectual culture, depends upon its accomplishment.” Letter upon letter, having the same general import, setting forth his enthusiastic interest in the cause of education in the South, might be cited. More earnestly and appealingly than mere written expressions of interest, his five years as president of Washington College bear witness for him.
It is a notable fact that more than one of those who achieved fame under the banners of the Confederacy was engaged in educational labors and went from the classroom or the laboratory into the heart of the conflict. Jackson was an obscure teacher in the Virginia Military Institute from 185 1 to 1861. The world has never produced an instructor in elementary mathematics who surpassed his brother-in-law, D. H. Hill, in grasp of the subject and clearness of demonstration. Lee himself had served three years as superintendent of the Military Academy at West Point, 1852–55. As a college president, Lee was representative of a type which has faded into obsolescence in our own day. The traditional head of an academic corporation as it was constituted in the Oxford or Cambridge of a vanished era is known no more. Lee belonged, in sympathy and association at least, to that dream world of ennobling attainment of which men such as Arnold, Jowett, Pattison were exemplars.
The mere contact with a man of Lee's type was an inspiration, an incentive—it was in the deepest sense a liberal education; for here was the incarnate ideal face to face with the crude lad from the remote rural regions, or the young soldier fresh from the field, who had known his college president only afar off as master of the host, and now looked upon him as he appeared with inflexible promptness at morning service in chapel, or devoted himself with mingled dignity and grace to the multiform duties and toilsome tasks involved in his administrative station. He had led the flower of our land from glory to glory, and had achieved for the Army of Northern Virginia a record to which the world presents no parallel for creative power, resourcefulness, and daring guided by genius in all the chronicles of war. And now he was to lead them in another sphere, to illustrate the crowning grace of moral force, and with his ideal conception of duty, to be the instrument of turning many unto righteousness. For more than once in our great Southern story, “the path of duty was the path to glory.”
Lee would find no recognition or fellowship in the category of college president as the term is understood in the materialistic life which dominates our contemporary civilization. The typical college president of to-day does not know the students, he is brought into no relation or association with them as individuals; to him they are simply the aggregation of humanity, the indiscriminate mass which frequents the college during the successive years of academic life. Moral, spiritual, intellectual power, brought to bear upon the student body and emanating from the president, is perhaps not dreamt of in his philosophy. To this type Lee did not belong. The attitude of the college executive as it is with notable exceptions recognized in our academic life would have been impossible of assumption by one who looked upon every lad at Washington College as committed to his personal care, the object of his special solicitude, the subject of his daily prayers, who knew the names of all, their weakness and their strength, their individual frailties, their peculiar temptations. The president who was never once late at prayers, whose pure and unobtrusive piety was reflected in the dull routine of daily life, was a shining light in which the college students rejoiced only for a season. Lee's life at Lexington ran over a period of five years, September, 1865—October, 1870, a lapse of time hardly sufficient to effect more than merely to begin the colossal task of restoration, to reestablish a continuity that had been dissolved by the desolations of war, to revive the culture centers that had paled their uneffectual fires, to bring some semblance of order from the chaos that had converted sanctuaries into stables, and turned academies and colleges into barracks and hospitals.
As our vineyards, fallows, meads, and hedges,
Defective in their natures, grow to wilderness,
Even so our houses, and ourselves and children
Have lost, or do not learn, for want of time,
The sciences that should become our country.
Such was the problem which Lee and the leaders of the South confronted at the close of the conflict. The continuity of national life had been snapped at a blow. Not all the effacement of material fortune, the vanished homestead, and the spoiling of household goods could be named as the small dust of the balance when compared with the setting up of strange gods upon our altars, the remorseless crushing of moral as well as intellectual ideals, the death of a people's hopes. That the South emerged triumphant from the frenzy of reconstruction, and fell not into the unresting anarchy of the Latin races which lie nearer the equator, is a marvelous attestation of the political genius and vitality of the men who were trained in the school of Lee. It was during this epoch of storm, of insolence and arrogance, of unbridled vengeance, as the South lay prostrate, that Lee was devoting his energies to the restoration and expansion of Washington College as a factor in the educational revival of his own people. It should never be forgotten that he did not live to see the dawn of the new day—some of the wildest orgies of reconstruction ran their course after his death. Mr. Davis was for two years a prisoner at Fortress Monroe—a vicarious sufferer for an entire nation, released at last with vauntings of magnanimity by the Government at Washington which dared not try him by judicial process for the crime imputed to his charge. Yet during those five years of gloom and shadow, the cloud unrelieved by scarcely a touch of silver lining, Lee walked alone with God, no word of unmanly repining, or despair born of sorrow proceeding from his lips. Not this alone—no trace of malevolence or vindictiveness reveals itself even in his correspondence with those of his own circle.
There were two atrocities of which he spoke, not with bitterness, but with severity born of righteousness—the murder of Mrs. Surratt and the atrocious desolation of the Valley of Virginia by the troops under the command of Hunter. The voice of Christendom has long since vindicated his moral sense in regard to both these crowning infamies; and even the historians and chroniclers of the North strive to bury their sense of shame by rigidly excluding all reference to the very name of Mrs. Surratt from school books, manuals of literature, or biographical works. If ever the poet's ideal was concretely exhibited to the world, and “the self-knowledge, self-reverence, self-control,” which “alone lead life to sovereign power,” set visibly before us, it was in the closing stages of Lee's career, when all the waves and billows had gone over him, when hope, in so far as it relates to the present world, had lost her youth, and he endured alone as seeing Him who is invisible. Such was the nature of his life at Lexington. Is it not an inspiration to the people of the South, an ideal which outruns the richest dream of fancy or vision of romance?
Especially is it to be noted, that during these dreary years of untempered humiliation and gratuitous agony, Lee never for a moment lost faith in the abiding righteousness of the cause he had championed. He kept the faith, and was in heart and conviction more intensely a Confederate when he died at Lexington in 1870 than when he declined the command of the armies of the Union in 1861.
Because right is right,
To follow right, were wisdom in the scorn of consequence.
That Lee was an ideal college president, we have striven to show from the simple record of his five years' service in that capacity. The source of his excellence and the secret of his power proceeded in large measure from the commanding moral influence which appeals more effectively to the susceptible and plastic nature of youth, than treatise or dissertation, scholastic reasoning, or demonstration. Here was the living truth, embodied in a magnetic personality, whose grace and unconsciousness of art carried all before it. To use the illustration of Tennyson, it was truth made into “current coin,” incarnate in a living parable, and “entering in at lowliest doors.” Only the most hardened reprobate could be impervious to the charm of such a life. To the mind of the present generation the query might suggest itself. How would Lee adapt himself to the vast collegiate and university corporations that have grown into life during the last thirty years, with their swarming hordes of students, individuality submerged, athletics the dominant note, the young barbarians all at play, and on high days butchered to make an academic holiday? Above all, how could his pure and righteous soul have brooked the cowardly and brutal custom of “hazing” almost universally prevalent in the contemporary college, and tolerated by the connivance of presidents and regents, or passed by in unmanly silence lest protest or remonstrance should offend the youthful savages who are sapping the foundations of civic virtue and rendering the centers of our highly intellectual culture a reproach in the eyes of Christendom? The entire atmosphere of the modern college would have seemed an alien world to Lee. The moral elements which dominated Washington College were such as have formed the guiding principle of our Southern educational life from the day of its origin—personal accountability, the assumption that every student is a gentleman and that his line of conduct in every relation will be in accord with those recognized and unvarying laws that in all circumstances determine the character of the gentleman. He who violated this prevailing code inflicted his own penalty, as he was placed under the ban of the student body, and his caste forfeited beyond the possibility of retrieval. That our contemporary collegiate life and all its ideals would have seemed an alien world to our hero is merely a demonstration of the process of disintegration and decadence through which our entire educational polity is passing under our own eyes. That Diana of the Ephesians, the great goddess of material power, is exalted upon all our academic altars—college presidents burn incense before her image from morning to evening; she is the tutelary divinity and the patron saint of our modern culture. In such an atmosphere the soul of Lee could not have breathed. The vital spark, the heavenly flame would have faded into eclipse. The moral temperature which prevailed in his unheralded college at Lexington was as pure and bracing as that which swept down from the mountain walls that engirdled the quaint idyllic town, with its charming aloofness, the resting-place of Jackson and the home of Lee.
Except in so far as the tradition is conserved in the academic centers of the South, the type of college president represented by Lee has passed forever into history. To some, it may be trusted, it still commends itself as an inspiration and an ideal. Apart from questions of administration, forms of organization, all that has regard to the mere mechanism of education, we still cling tenaciously to our conviction that the ancient Southern colleges, as illustrated in their best and purest types, and including Washington College, were, in the finer elements of spiritual and intellectual training, essentially superior to their ambitious, aspiring, and materialized successors of the modern day. If this be treason, then make the most of it.
In all his official relations to the students of the college General Lee was marked by the same delicate regard for the sensibilities and sensitiveness of youth. He realized and illustrated in his daily attitude toward others Cardinal Newman's fine definition of the gentleman as one who never willingly inflicts pain. His comments upon the conduct of others were expressed with that courteous and temperate language which characterized him even in circumstances of extreme provocation. A Confederate commander of rare ability, but addicted at times to the use of violent and profane words, was playfully referred to by the General, as “my bad old man.” It was this affluent gentleness that linked all hearts to him with “hoops of steel,” and caused the officer of exalted rank, as well as the lowliest private, to feel that the fate of the universe was in some way involved with the fate of Lee. The commander referred to above voiced the prevailing sentiment when he exclaimed upon hearing of Lee's surrender, “Well, Gabriel, now blow your horn.” This same general could not rest under the imputation of defeat for our arms, but replied with characteristic vehemence to some one who spoke of the South having been “whipped,” “No, sir; we were not whipped, we wore ourselves out whipping the Yankees.”
It was a formidable ordeal for a student to be summoned to appear before General Lee. An alumnus of Washington College has left on record an account of his experience. His boyish escapades and repeated absences from class had caused him to be summoned to the president's office. Stricken with terror as he was ushered into the august presence, all his skilfully devised excuses vanished in a moment, and overwhelmed with confusion he improvised a story of “a violent illness,” a statement so perfectly contradicted by his appearance that he immediately substituted another in regard to having left his boots at the shoemaker's, etc.; when General Lee, whose fine sense of humor was equal to any emergency, interposed, “Stop, Mr. —, stop, sir; one good reason is enough.” As a rule a single summons to meet the General in his office was quite sufficient. Only the most hardened natures would dare to run that gauntlet a second time. The stereotyped college complaints of injustice or partiality in the administration of the institution appear to have been almost unknown. The moral influence of the president was so great that it dominated the academic life and exalted him above the touch of suspicion itself.
A strain of invincible courtesy pervaded the blood of all the Lees. Of each one the poet's dictum held good:
Not being less but more than all
The gentleness he seemed to be.
Some years ago a party of lads was trespassing upon the grounds of Gen. Custis Lee, and availed themselves of the luscious apples that hung from the trees in the orchard. Suddenly the general appeared upon the scene, and the company scampered in all directions. Instead of the indignant protest which was looked for, the General said, “Oh, young gentlemen, help yourselves, help yourselves.” The spirit of the father reflected its fine pure light through his children. That such a soul should draw all men unto him affords no cause for surprise or comment. When I was a prisoner at Johnson's Island a detachment of captured “Confeds” was brought in from the battlefields of Virginia. As the party entered the “pen,” there appeared one who in form, figure, and expression bore a striking likeness to our hero. A simultaneous cry as of despair went up, “My God, there is General Lee!” It proved to be a captain from our army in the West, and renewed hope succeeded the momentary agony of despair.
The General's youngest surviving son and namesake, Robert E. Lee, of West Point, Va., is graced by the hereditary note of all prevailing courtesy. I have not looked upon his face since April, 1861, when, a lad of scarce seventeen, I passed from academic scenes and scholastic routine to my novitiate as a soldier in the malarious atmosphere of the Virginia peninsula. I recalled myself to his consciousness by a request for specific and detailed information in reference to points of family history which were not accessible to me. The reply came in due time, explicit, minute, most kindly in tone, comprehensive in courtesy. As long as the memory, or even the tradition of Lee survives in the South, the ideal of gentleman can never fall into shadow or sink into decadence and eclipse. Along with this omnipresent courtesy, there pervaded the nature of Lee an aversion to notoriety which marked every phase of his life, as commander of a host, president of a college, or a Virginia gentleman living in the sweet seclusion of his own home, listening to the rustic murmur of his burg, shielded by mountain barriers from the streaming roar and unrest of the untraveled world that lay beyond. Whatever notoriety he acquired was in the strictest sense thrust upon him; his antipathy toward it rose almost to a degree that might be described as morbid, if touch of angularity or idiosyncrasy could be traced in a nature whose almost perfect symmetry was its matchless glory. For him “fame was no plant that grows on mortal soil.” If it were possible to imagine a nature exalted to a point at which the glory of the world pales into insignificance, it was set before us in the life and character of Lee. He shrank not from the fierce light which beats upon thrones and powers, from the relentless scrutiny which is the unfailing portion of rank, and station, and genius. The ephemeral luster of the world, the fancied life in other's breath, had for him no charm. To walk with God, to live in the circle of home and fireside, to tend with unfailing and delicate care his wife who endured a long agony of martyrdom from rheumatism, to enter into the pursuits, plans, and even the amusements of his children, praying for them in the gloom of the night-watches, as the exhausted army lay around him, such was the inner life of him whom the whole world of culture delighted to honor.
The very seclusiveness of our hero rendered him all the more an object of attraction, not to the mere intruder, dominated by no higher motive than the gratification of curiosity, but to the rare and discerning circle which can estimate true greatness and receive the vitalizing power that springs from contact with its noblest types. From interviewers or representatives of the press he shrank with especial aversion. The most courteous of natures, he turned resolutely from the notoriety which would be the inevitable outcome of any utterance on his part, however innocent in character or harmless in import. Among those who called upon him at Lexington was Swinton, the historian of the Army of the Potomac, a Scotchman by birth, who had passed some years of his early life as a teacher at Greensboro, N.C. The historian of the Federal army seems to have inspired General Lee with a repugnance that betrays itself in language so thoroughly at variance with his wonted manner that we cannot fail to suspect some reason which does not appear upon the surface. “Mr. Swinton has paid his visit,” he writes. “He seemed to be gentlemanly, but I derive no pleasure from my interviews with bookmakers. I have either to appear uncivil, or run the risk of being dragged before the public.” Many years after this letter was written, and long before it had ever seen the light, I learned that Mr. Swinton was addicted to periodical spells of debauchery, and that he indulged in them with the utmost system and regard to method. “Now, boys, I am going to get drunk,” was his warning note; then came the attack. His literary work was executed during intervals of sobriety, and he is said in his rational moods to have been laborious, industrious, and thorough in execution. A suspicion of his real character may have revealed itself to the penetrating instinct of General Lee, hence the expression of aversion, amounting almost to disgust, that reveals itself in speaking of the visit. It is but simple justice to add that one of the finest tributes ever paid to the infantry of Lee's army is from the pen of Swinton. Despite his infirmity, he possessed the fine discrimination of his race, even when investigating the record of an enemy. Under more auspicious conditions he might have developed into a sort of “Sherlock Holmes,” for his discernment and keenness of perception are beyond all question. Lee, by a sort of intuition turned away from him with that invincible aversion which a pure and stainless soul feels in the presence of a detective, who for his own ends and in the garb of courtesy thrusts himself into the retirement of his fireside and trespasses upon the sanctity of his home. Says Swinton in his “History of the Army of the Potomac,” in commenting upon the army of Lee: “Who that once looked upon it can ever forget it?—that army of tattered uniforms and bright muskets; that body of incomparable infantry, the Army of Northern Virginia, which for four years carried the revolt on its bayonets, opposing a constant front to the mighty concentration of power brought against it; which receiving terrible blows did not fail to give the like, and which, vital in all its parts, died only with its annihilation.”
Swinton became a professor in the University of California and died in 1892. General Lee's repugnance to him does not argue or suggest austerity; it was the natural reserve of a true gentleman, and, above all, a strong reluctance to be drawn into the light of notoriety, to give vent to a word or intimation that might still further inflame the triumphant North with its policy of proscription, and vindictiveness against the prostrate and despairing States of the South. During the five years of life vouchsafed to Lee subsequent to the overthrow of the Confederacy, his attitude was marked by a degree of prudence, discretion, self-restraint, unsurpassed in the annals of the world. A hasty or intemperate utterance on his part would have thrown the North into a hysteria of rancor and of rage. Yet even the inquisitorial and pervasive malice of his enemies, unresting and unrelenting in their quest, has never traced to his lips a single expression that could be turned to partisan advantage, or even by perversion used to justify the frenzy and madness which marked the crowning infamy of reconstruction. The blood that mingled with this long carnival of crime rests upon the hands of the conquerors alone. This amazing self-restraint, even in circumstances of extreme provocation, ran through all the acts and attitudes of Lee. When Pickett reported to him on that bodeful day at Gettysburg, July 3d, 1863, “General, I am cut all to pieces,” he betrayed not the slightest irritation or resentment, uttered not a single word of condemnation, nor even of comment. A nature pervaded by the most acute sensibility, and touched by finest sympathy for the wrongs of the humblest soldier in the hour of supreme crisis, he was
Like a statue, solid set
And moulded in colossal calm.
The passive as well as the actual virtues blended in his character, and in his five years of life at Lexington he endured in the strength of that “living will,” which abides when “all that seems shall suffer shock,” sustained by the “faith that comes of self-control,” upheld by the truths that never can be demonstrated,
Until we close with all we love,
And all we flow from, soul in soul.
Lee's strong love of country life, so characteristic of his Southern origin, must have rendered Lexington a congenial home, a sort of Arcadia to him. All traces of its primitive charm have not yet faded into shadow. It is still far withdrawn from the streaming roar of great cities. The light of the ancient South still rests upon it. Lee could indulge in the amplest measure his love of exercise in the vitalizing air, mounted on Traveler, who had borne him for years as he swept with majestic grace by the imperial host, surpassing even Shakespeare's knightly hero, who was wont “to witch the world with deeds of horsemanship.”
Not far from the college was the first resting-place of Jackson, and the figure of Lee standing by, as he was accustomed to do, has been rescued by art from oblivion and wrought into the consciousness of the Southern race. A friend who accompanied Lee on one of his visits to the grave of Jackson described it as the most impressive scene in his varied experience, rich in all the elements that constitute moral grandeur and moral sublimity. And so the Lexington life glided tranquilly by, and the fame of the college passed into all civilized lands. So circumscribed was its reputation that when Lee became its head Northern journals asserted that he had been elected president of the University of Virginia. It was difficult to overcome this misconception. Of Jefferson's foundation they had at least some vague impression; the existence of Lee's modest and obscure college at Lexington was not even known. All this, however, was speedily changed; the renown of the remote institution over which our chief presided passed over seas and continents, and its head was the recipient of such marks of homage and reverence from the leading centers of English culture as have never been bestowed upon the representatives of any American college or university, in the North or in the South.
VIEW OF LEXINGTON, VA., HOME OF GENERAL LEE DURING THE LAST YEARS OF HIS LIFE
Of Lee's marvelous physical power and grace much might be said. He was a magnificent horseman and it was an inspiration to see him on horseback. Not only did Traveler know his master, as every horse does by the instinct of his kind, but there seemed to be a thorough understanding, a sort of confidential relation, existing between the animal and his rider. An incident will illustrate this—an incident related by his son and biographer. During his Lexington life the General on one occasion escorted to the canal boat a young lady who had been the guest of his daughters, and was on her way home. Dismounting and tying Traveler to a post, he was bidding farewell to the lady, when all at once it was announced that the horse had broken loose and was making his way up the road, his speed only stimulated by the crowd that vainly endeavored to stop him. The General quickly came ashore, requested the crowd to stand aside, and advancing a few steps “gave a peculiar low whistle. At the first sound Traveler stopped and pricked up his ears. The General whistled a second time, and the horse, with a glad whinny, turned and trotted quietly back to his master, who patted and coaxed him before tying him up again.” I have among my treasures a hair from the tail of Traveler. When has a horse achieved such fame? Alexander's Bucephalus may be touched by the spirit of myth or legend, but Traveler is as veritable a reality as the peerless man who rode him. To look upon him borne along by the noble steed whose story is linked with his own, was a concrete embodiment of those dreams and visions fashioned by the spirit of the chivalric imagination.
This gallant had witchcraft in it:
He grew unto his seat;
And to such wondrous doing brought his horse,
As he had been incorps'd and demi-natured with the brave beast.
So far he topp'd my thought,
That I in forgery of shapes and tricks,
Come short of what he did.
Skill in horsemanship was part of our Southern life. Each sex excelled in the graceful accomplishment, but Lee represented the art in its ideal stage of development. Sir Lancelot could not have outshone him in knightly charm as, mounted on Traveler, he swept through the lines on some gala day, such as that memorable occasion at Orange Court House, in the autumn of 1863, when he passed along the front of his incomparable host a distance of nine miles, leaving several of his staff far in the rear, moving like a star of chivalry, stopping to jest with the young girls or tease some aspiring young officer about the lady in whose fortune he was especially interested. For Lee was intensely human; his sympathies were as broad as the universe: no vicissitude of fortune ever narrowed the range of his affections, or shed a trace of austerity or stoicism over his all-embracing human heart. In him, as in the hero of “In Memoriam,” “God and nature met in light.” General Grant fell into a grievous error when in his Memoirs he attributes to Lee a stern and impassible character. He is as wide of the truth as he proved himself in the famous letter to General Halleck of May 11, 1864, the day preceding the assault upon our lines at Spottsylvania C. H., and three weeks before the Federal repulse at Cold Harbor, June 3. These two memorable expressions, not the vague utterance of current rumor but proceeding from Grant's own pen, demonstrate beyond reasonable question his weakness as a discerner of character and his deficiency in strategic faculty to so marked an extent as entirely to abrogate for all time his claim to be ranked among the foremost masters of the art of war. Grant writes to Halleck at the date referred to, May 11, “I am satisfied that the enemy are very shaky, and are only kept up to the mark by the greatest exertion on the part of their officers.” The letter had hardly passed from his hands, before his vast surging columns reeled back from Spottsylvania under the resistless fire of Lee's “shaky” infantry. As a Federal colonel, now an eminent jurist, described it to the writer: “the destruction wrought by your infantry fire was so terrible that our men didn't see the propriety of staying there and they left.” Then followed Cold Harbor, with its harvest of blood, and Grant recoiled again before the sanguinary leaden stream of our “shaky” line, his entire plan of campaign was deranged in an hour, and the Confederacy for the time was successful.
Let us return from our digression to what we may regard as the purely human or manly phases of Lee's character. Lee's skill in horsemanship was not only a part of his education or inheritance as a Virginia gentleman of the ancient type, his training at West Point and in the regular service imparted an additional charm caught from the art of the schools. A friend of mine who occupied a position of trust and confidence which brought him into habitual relation with Lee during the entire war has described the care and skill with which the General taught him the art of “backing into line” as it is technically termed; and added, “I can back my horse now from my office on St. Paul street to Druid Hill Park,—a distance of at least two miles,—by the method General Lee taught me. The first time I see you in the park I will give you an illustration.” The friend in question, a devoted Confederate, and a highly esteemed lawyer, revealed other phases of Lee's lofty and ideal nature. During the spring of 1864, when the final campaign was at hand, General Lee, accompanied by my friend, made frequent and critical topographical surveys of the country on which he knew that the great game of war would be played. One day was passed on Slaughter or Cedar Mountain, some miles from Culpeper, the scene of Jackson's victory over Pope, August 9, 1862, in which engagement the heroic Winder met his fate. From the summit of the mountain the country expands into a vision of beauty, the view embracing a vast area of Piedmont Virginia and ranging on toward the mountain walls which guard the distant Valley. The General completed the first stage of his survey, then invited my friend to share the luncheon which he had brought from camp. This he did upon the occasion of every visit to the mountain. As they rode from point to point, his companion, not only a subordinate but a mere youth, fell to the rear. He was met by the invariable request, made without the slightest trace of condescension, “Come, D., and ride along beside me.” None of the loftiness of asserted or even implied superiority marked the attitude of that imperial soul. At what a pole of contrast stands our Confederate chief to the anointed head of the house of Hohenzollern, the Emperor William II of Germany. It was upon a certain occasion, not especially ceremonial or formal in its nature, the future overlord being then Crown Prince, that his mother, the Empress Frederick, presumed to walk by his side and lay her hand upon the arm of her son. The future Kaiser cast her haughtily off, stalked on in affronted majesty, remarking as he did so, “I represent the person of the Emperor; I walk alone.” Some years ago, as a railway train was passing near the base of Slaughter Mountain, a head emerged from a car window and in a Northern voice the question was asked, “What place is this?” To which the reply came quick and clear, “This is the place where Jackson gave Pope h-ll.” The geographical description seems to have been sufficiently accurate, and the interview was not prolonged.
Several summers ago I spent an afternoon on Slaughter Mountain and enjoyed the hospitality of the cultured and charming family whose name is impressed upon the lonely and isolated peak that looks majestically down upon historic fields of strife and ancient Virginia homes like Salubria, which run far back into colonial days and have survived the storm of war. It was at Salubria that Thomas Jefferson was a frequent guest; there is the spinet tracing back for more than a century; on the estate is the desolate grave of Lady Spotswood, who, after the death of her martial and valorous husband, married Parson Thomson, yielding rather to the persistent logic than to the charms and graces of her suitor. Not far away is the home of Major Lacey, where Jackson's portrait greets you as you enter the spacious hall; for it was to Major Lacey that Jackson came to seek critical information in regard to the topography of the country not long before the campaign of Chancellorsville.
My friend spent more than one day alone on the mountain with Lee. It was indeed a mount of privilege, to have been in contact, remote from all other association, with the foremost spirit of the age! Lee's fine manly characteristics, his perfection of development in all phases of physical life, asserted their power even in the most trying and critical conditions. As our army was falling back from Gettysburg, Lee with his staff was resting by the Potomac, then swollen by heavy rains, the night had set in and the darkness was intense. Suddenly in the all-shrouding gloom there dashed by a squad of horsemen at full speed. Not a face could be distinguished—it might be friend or foe. Yet Lee's quick and discerning ear was not deceived. “That rides like Stuart,” he said, and sure enough it proved to be General Stuart who had passed when the veil of night was so dense that no eye could pierce it, and Lee recognized him by his style of riding.
Lee's life at Lexington afforded rare opportunities for the gratification of all those manly traits, which were developed to so lofty a point that he would have ranged with the immortals had he never led an embattled host, or set a squadron in the tented field. What a sphere for the energies of Traveler the roads of the Valley must have been! The residence of Lee at Lexington seems to have cast a golden glow over hills and peaks, and mingled the charm of romance with the grace and grandeur of “the art of God.” It by no means exceeds belief that at some unrevealed day the very association of Lee will idealize Lexington and the Valley; it will become a shrine for all lands, like that of Charlemagne at Aachen, Arthur at Glastonbury, Becket at Canterbury, Washington at Mount Vernon. The prophetic faculty of a Southern poet, Dr. Frank O. Ticknor of Georgia, has already leaped to this result.
This wondrous valley! hath it spells
And golden alchemies,
That so its chaliced splendor dwells
In those imperial eyes?
This man hath breathed all balms of light,
And quaffed all founts of grace,
Till Glory, on the mountain height,
Has met him face to face.
Ye kingly hills! ye dimpled dells!
Haunt of the eagle-dove,
Grant us your wine of woven spells
To grow like him we love!
This bewitching skill in horsemanship was not the characteristic of the great chief alone; it is a family characteristic, and General Fitzhugh Lee, who has just rejoined his uncle in the world of light, was a superb master of horse. Many an old soldier of the Army of Northern Virginia will recall his campaign as a candidate for Governor of Virginia, when, mounted upon his uncle's saddle, he traversed the State, all aflame with enthusiasm in his cause; how the press and the partisans of the North gave vent to an agony of outraged loyalty in regard to the “treasonable and traitorous saddle” on which he rode, and “Fire Alarm” Foraker shivered the tingling stars with his invectives against the reappearance or resurrection of our chief, in the person of his nephew, who inherited some touch of that subtle charm which sat upon his peerless kinsman like an ethereal grace.
The college moved on harmoniously, and its fame spread abroad more widely as the speeding scholastic years ran their course. If there was any point in the character of Lee as an administrative officer in educational spheres that was obnoxious to criticism, it was the extreme gentleness, the all-pervading sympathy, the intense human-heartedness which revealed itself in every phase of his varied career, and was at times urged against him as commander of the army. He could not bear to inflict pain upon others, whether soldiers who violated the articles of war, or escapading young men who neglected tasks and avoided chapel. We find him on one occasion writing to the friends of a negligent and indolent student, that “unless Mr. — improves, his sweethearts in Baltimore will not have occasion to mourn for him long”—a kindly and gentle reminder, written with the hope of averting a serious result.
Apart from the routine of official duty and the sweetness and light of his own fireside, his favorite recreation was on the back of Traveler, for mounted upon a horse he seemed endued unto his native element. Upon one occasion he writes that he rode Traveler from Lexington to Staunton—a distance of about forty miles, for the Valley railway was then in the future. This charming aloofness of Lexington from the great stream of the external world was the occasion of one of the few attempts at wit which are recorded of General Jackson. While an instructor in the Military Institute he asked a cadet in class, “Mr. —, why is it impossible to send a telegram from Lexington to Staunton?” to which the young man, after several bungling attempts at explanation, replied, “There is something in the atmospheric conditions which makes it impossible.” “No,” said Jackson, “it is because there is no telegraph between Lexington and Staunton.” Upon another occasion a mischievous cadet was imitating, during recitation, the yelping of a dog; on observing which Jackson simply remarked, “Ah, young gentleman, I see that we have a puppy in the class.”
Lee's home circle at Lexington must have possessed a great charm. Men whose light had gone out into all lands, scholars, nobles, masters of the material world, were drawn to the quiet dreaming borough in the Valley inaccessible by rail, removed from the madding strife of great cities, guarded by mountain walls like those around about Jerusalem, all impelled in their quest by a resistless longing to look upon the face of Lee, and perhaps to stand reverently with him at the modest grave in which Stonewall Jackson rested until his translation to the spot crowned by the soaring monument beneath which he and his daughter lie side by side. It is a strange psychological phenomenon that the head of a cause which was crushed, and of a people whose hopes were dead, should have drawn, by some mysterious spell, men of all nationalities, types of all classes, representatives of all spheres in which human energy asserts its power, the world of culture and the world of action; poets, dreamers, lovers of the heroic past, students of the “painful earth” like Tyndall, who laid bare her secrets; guides and leaders of the financial realm, who entered into and possessed the domains revealed by the triumphs of science. Yet all these were drawn as by some resistless gravitation toward Lee, and united in the homage bestowed spontaneously and lavishly upon the head of a cause whose very name is a synonym of failure, disaster, and despair.
In the conduct of his life at Lexington, as in all stages of his crowded and complex career, Lee was a model which our own generation may adopt with infinite advantage from every point of view. Family prayers were never dispensed with, or ignored in the Lee household; they were part of the divine order, and Lee, whether at some far-off post in the remote West, on the verge of desperate battle, or in the sweet retirement of his home, never entered upon the labors of the day without especially invoking the guidance and protection of God. George Washington reads the burial service at the improvised grave of Braddock in the wilderness; Lee maintains the family altar in his own home with inflexible devotion unto the end. Such were two extremes of our ancient Southern civilization.
The personal letters of General Lee written during this Lexington period are especially rich in revelations of his inner life and his real greatness. The eye of the writer is not fixed upon posterity; his style is not disturbed by visions of critics, or pragmatic and irresponsible reviewers. His real grandeur can never be apprehended in its richness until we see him as he unconsciously portrays himself—
In these fallen leaves which kept their green,
The noble letters of the dead.
He does not fall into that characteristic vice of the typical letter-writer, the assumption that the person addressed is familiar with all the facts in regard to which he is most anxious to be enlightened, leaving him as thoroughly in the dark at the end as at the beginning of the letter. To illustrate: In a letter written to his daughter, Miss Mildred Lee, then a young girl, the letter being dated January 8, 1870, he enters with the utmost minuteness into the current Lexington news; the dances, the parties, the latest engagements, the cadet hop at the Institute, the young men who had been on visits to their sweethearts, the improvement of the sick, and even the welfare of his daughter's favorite cats. To himself there is hardly more than a casual reference. He took no thought for self: the supreme aim was to gratify the dear child to whom he wrote.
The very simplicity of Lee's English style reveals the purity of his taste, and the atmosphere of culture in which he moved by right of sympathy, as well as by virtue of inheritance. That he had absorbed the spirit of our masterful Elizabethan classics, notably of Shakespeare, is evident from the felicity and the relevancy of his allusions, woven into the language of his broad and multi-form correspondence. He seems to have been very familiar with Hamlet and Othello. Occasionally a word appears in his correspondence or his conversation that is archaic or ancient in character. For example, he often gave his horse a “breather,” as he called it; that is, vigorous exercising, a good run, in common phrase. Eastern Virginia, in which his early days were passed, is rich in survivals of Elizabethan English, abiding from the settlement of the original colonists during the seventeenth century, and “breathe” or “breather” in the sense employed by Lee would have been familiar as a household word to Shakespeare, Sir Walter Raleigh, or the great Earl of Fairfax, who discovers more than one point of resemblance in taste and temperament to our Confederate hero. The very term “breathe” in its older acceptation, as Washington or Lee understood it, has been revived by that great master of our olden English, Lord Tennyson, in more than one characteristic creation of his sovereign art. It was the impression of assiduous reading of the Scriptures which, more than all other forms of literature, is reflected in his correspondence with family and friends. Scripture diction seems to have been wrought into his habitual language. It was not so much conscious quotation as the use of a speech which had become a part of his vernacular, and rose spontaneously to his lips. His official orders are pervaded by its spirit; it breathes through nearly every letter designed for wife and child. Sad is the falling off among the representatives of light and culture in the generation of which we form a part. The tone, manner, style of biblical English is fast falling into obsolescence; perhaps nothing is so rarely recognized or accurately apprehended as an allusion or reference, historical, verbal or allegorical, drawn from the store-house of the Scriptures.
In no respect does the life of Lee address itself more appealingly to the rising generation than in its powerful and impressive inculcation of the vanishing grace of reverence. In triumph and in defeat, in the hour of darkness, and at the climax of fortune, at Fredericksburg or at Appomattox, reverence and trust sat upon him like a grace. In him “mind and soul, according well,” made that vast and perfect harmony idealized by Tennyson, preeminently the champion and exponent of the reverence which Lee symbolized, for it was the inspiration of his life.
Let knowledge grow from more to more,
But more of reverence in us dwell,
That mind and soul according well,
May make one music as before,
Not only did proofs of love, homage, and devotion from all lands and from all ranks fall like largess upon Lee during his five years at Lexington; there came tempting offers from powerful corporations, of rich emolument and merely nominal duties, of liberal income not earned by personal toil and consecration to the welfare of his employers—in other words, he was to be compensated for the use of his name alone. To all such tempting inducements Lee turned a deaf ear. For him there could be but one reply. It was upon one of these occasions referred to that he is reported to have made the declaration which has become historic, “My name is all I have left, and that is not for sale.” Not long did it require for Lee to say in effect and with overwhelming emphasis, “Get thee behind me, Satan * * * for thou savorest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” Not all the world and the glory of it could have drawn Lee from Virginia and the South. In the great centers of wealth and power he would have felt himself in an alien sphere. Their streaming roar would have been intolerable to one who had inherited the English gentleman's love of rural association, brought from the motherland to colonial Virginia, and as strong in the blood of the Fairfaxes and Washingtons as in Lee himself. His constant yearning seems to have been for a farm in the secluded country, where he could earn a support by the cultivation of the soil. Even Lexington, with all its Arcadian flavor, was hardly secluded enough to fulfill the dream of one whose heart longed for fresh woods and pensive streams, remote from the throbbing world.
When asked by a young kinsman, “What fate is in store for us poor Virginians?” he replied, “You can work for Virginia to build her up again, to make her great again. You can teach your children to love and cherish her.” His answer was the dominant note of the supreme doctrine of “States' rights,” the creed which lies at the base of our life in the South. Love of home, of section, of State, of ancestral land above all, for such preeminent affection, instead of lacking the universal catholic spirit, is its essence as well as its inspiration. These simple words of Lee to his young cousin embody a subtle and all-embracing principle. In the present crisis of our Southern civilization they appeal to us like the warning voice of some great prophet famed in ages old. Let not the monition of our chief fall upon dull and unheeding ears. Let us “work for the South, to build her up again, to make her great again. Let us teach our children to love and cherish her.” Such in a high and exalted sense was Lee's final message to his own people. It was in a
measure his farewell address to the nation that he struggled to bring into assured and abiding life, to invest with autonomy, to win for it by legitimate war, not by barbarous conquest, an enduring rank among the crowning federations of the earth. Chief, cause, and people fell together, and their dreams of political supremacy have faded into eclipse. Though our hopes be dead, let us not fail to cherish the solemn injunction laid upon us by this man who led our armies and embodied our aspirations, who was the personal expression of all we thought and loved, achieved and longed for, that was holy in aim, ideal in character, making for righteousness.
For all we thought and loved and did,
And hoped and suffered is but seed,
Of what in him is flower and fruit.
One strong proof of Lee's versatility of intellect was the readiness with which he adapted himself to the new conditions of life imposed upon him by his acceptance of the presidency of Washington College. His entire career had been passed in military service, he had achieved brilliant fame in the war with Mexico, and had for three years been Superintendent of the Military Academy at West Point, from 1852 to 1855. All this, years preceding the oncoming of our national strife. His manner of life from his youth had been in a sphere essentially opposed to that which prevails in the typical American college, yet with that power of adjustment to novel environments which is an unfailing mark of genius, he went from the command of an army in the field to the presidency of a prostrate and dismantled college. All at once it sprang to life, as if touched by the wand of a magician. It revived like the dry bones in the prophet's vision, and leaped to vigorous, expanding vitality as if the breath from the four winds had descended upon it. Lee fell into line as naturally and gracefully in his strange sphere as if his days had been passed in the cloistered aloofness of academic association, rather than in the duties of a soldier. The selection of our chief as president of a college, impelled as it naturally was by considerations of a sentimental though exalted nature, was a brilliant stroke of fortune. Lee's rare discernment of character drew to Lexington the finest flower of scholarly culture; men such as Allan and William Preston Johnston, as well as those steadfast pillars of the academic staff, who had stood firmly by the college during the long-drawn ordeal of fire and blood. In the field of jurisprudence, oracles like Tucker expounded the subtle mysteries of code and precedent, “the lawless science of our law.” The Nelsons, the Campbells, Whites, Harrises, Kirkpatricks, all carried with them the element of intensiveness, and “Thorough” was the prevailing note.
A generation died since Lee was gathered to his fathers, October 12, 1870, yet the impress of his spirit still abides with the modest, unassertive institution which blends his name into harmony with that of his prototype, the founder of our Southern civilization. The men who have in large measure succeeded the collegiate staff contemporary with Lee have fallen heir to the traditions of those that went before them. Small in material resources from a financial point of view, insignificant when compared with the affluent and expanding wealth of Northern universities and colleges, it upholds the vital power of pure scholarship, and its accredited representatives achieve honorable renown in the foremost centers of true learning, in which the conceit or illusion of knowledge has not usurped the reality. Lee was by no means the only hero of the civil war who became a college president upon the establishment of peace, but his record in his untested and novel sphere is all the more enviable by contrast with the dismal failures of others whom nature had not endowed with his sovereign grace of adaptation to strange faces, other minds, conditions at variance with his arduous professional service, indeed, with the whole tenor of his preceding life. For those who failed where Lee succeeded, we can at least invoke the charity of silence. And in this connection I wish to enunciate a proposition which I am inclined to suspect will place me on the foremost files of the heterodox, if it does not win for me a conspicuous rank in the academic index. I am more firmly assured as years speed by, and educational revolutions of the most radical character are taking positive form under our eyes, that the training of our Southern colleges of forty years ago, when Lee rode on horseback to Lexington to enter upon his novel duties, was for the higher and nobler aims and ideals of culture, superior in every essential sense to that type of educational development which has blossomed into vigorous life during the decades of which we form part. I would not exchange the older M.A. degree of the University of Virginia for all the complex distinctions and differentiated honors bestowed by our modern universities. This, at least, had a well-defined character, and represented the highest achievable result of American university attainment. In days nearer our own the universities have put scholarship behind them, rather as a temptation to be resisted, than as an incentive or an inspiration to be eagerly sought, and assuredly won, however arduous the quest. The “jingling of the guinea” is the dominant note of our contemporary educational chiefs. The true scholar is bidden like some demon of the abysmal world, to “get behind” our collegiate heads, who, instigated by a species of educational simony delude themselves into the fantasy that learning, like the grace of God, may be bought for gold, or acquired through the medium of endowments and securities. Of this class was not the president of Washington College, Robert E. Lee.
If the tree is known by its fruits, and the best product of the tree, its richest fruit, is chosen as the criterion of judgment, the ancient colleges of the South, from William and Mary to Washington and Lee, are unsurpassed in the long record of our higher education. It must not be inferred from the tenor of our comments that Lee was in any sense a part of that petrific and fossilized world upon whose nerves the very suggestion of progress or advancement acts like the taste of blood upon the sensibilities of the famished tiger. So far from it, none of all the sons of genius was ever more completely endued with the very essence of rational progress, with that moral sanity which is the cohesive power, as well as the vital flame of a great and all-embracing spirit. He was not a visionary iconoclast, a modern school executive, eagerly grasping the obsolescent novelties of other dreamers; in every manifestation of his greatness he was as creative and original as Dante or Shakespeare, standing in his proper strength alone before God, not a reflection, not a model remodeled, not the type of a merely galvanic life, but the breather of an ampler day for ever nobler ends. While the world marveled at the supreme daring of the campaign at Chancellorsville, it was Lee who with Jackson guided the whirlwind of battle; the seeming recklessness was the certitude of intuition, that transcendent power which overleaps experience, passes the bounds of time and space, and rushes to the goal, as if led by the finger of God.
Not far from Baltimore, the city of my adoption, is the Confederate Home, situate in the lovely rural region which encircles the metropolis of the South. It is a type in the highest phase and purest acceptance of many kindred institutions that love, loyalty, and inflexible devotion have reared in our Southland as places of honorable refuge, in which those who esteemed life and worldly fame as nought, if they might win political autonomy for their own country, may find shelter and sanctuary. It is an inspiration, as well as a revelation, to mingle with the inmates of this home, to note their ripe and comprehensive intelligence, their critical acquaintance with the great streams of tendency that dominate our modern life, and hear their comments upon the unparalleled drama of war, in which every man was an actor. To see this fast-fading line on Memorial Day at Loudon Park, as they move toward the resting-places of their comrades who have rejoined Lee and Jackson, is one of those special inspirations to which no land nor age nor image of war can suggest a parallel. The Home is rich in memorials and treasures hallowed by contact with the master spirits. There are rare and almost unknown portraits of young Confederate chiefs; there is the camp-stool on which Jackson sat during his interview with Lee at the second battle of Bull Run, and fell asleep as was his wont in church, and as he did on that critical night at Malvern Hill.
None of the lads trained in the school of Lee at Lexington have forsaken their first love, or lost their first estate. They have not trampled under their feet the food of angels for the husks that the swine should eat. “Duty,” as Lee wrote to his son, “is the sublimest word in our language;” but it was with him no scholastic dogma, no abstraction of moralists; it was a living flame, a vital force, the “Stern Daughter of the Voice of God.” If ever the teaching of our sovereign master of ethical precept and romantic fervor applied with preeminent power to one of the sons of men, and was illustrated in his life and character, the model reveals itself in the person of our Confederate hero.
Stern Daughter of the Voice of God!
O Duty! if that name thou love
Who art a light to guide, a rod
To check the erring and reprove;
Thou, who art victory and law,
When empty terrors overawe;
From vain temptations dost set free;
And calms't the weary strife of frail humanity!
* * * * * * * * * * *
Stern Lawgiver! yet thou dost wear
The Godhead's most benignant grace;
Nor know we anything so fair
As is the smile upon thy face:
Flowers laugh before thee on their beds
And fragrance in thy footing treads;
Thou dost preserve the stars from wrong;
And the most ancient heavens through Thee are fresh and strong.
And if the path of duty proved to be the path to glory, glory was never the goal, fame never the quest. For a finely tempered spirit, such as Lee's, “Fame is no plant that grows on mortal soil.” If the brilliance of the holy grail sat upon his head, it rested there as it rested upon Percival or Galahad, symbolic of transcendent purity, and though won, never pursued; though vouchsafed, never sought. No better illustration of his loftiness of soul, gentleness of heart, and strength of devotion can be cited than the tender and delicate care he bestowed upon Mrs. Lee, the victim of rheumatism, that tenacious and aggressive disease, before whose assaults the most resolute nerves are sometimes prostrate. During his Lexington life he was unrelaxing in his care, wheeling the invalid gently in her chair, and striving in every way to temper the pain and comfort the wife of his youth; for with Lee the fervor of love was not chilled by the flight of years: she was to him the Mary Custis of his early days, whose heart he had won when a young lieutenant of twenty-four. Their wedding in June, 1831, might well have inspired, as Professor Trent has intimated, the blithesome note of some modern Suckling, if it did not evoke some loftier and holier strain, such as the nuptial songs of Spenser, or the still statelier flight of the epilogue to Tennyson's “In Memoriam.” Lee never ceased to be a lover.
It was during his life at Lexington that Lee suffered only as a great and all-embracing soul can suffer, from sympathy with Mr. Davis, toward whom his feelings were those of strong attachment, and of whose rare and varied intellectual power he had the strongest appreciation. The fate of the Southern President long trembled in the balance, and the malignant attitude assumed toward him has never been surpassed in the history of war. It is the wildest of absurdities to speak of a magnanimous or tolerant spirit on the part of the Federal Government. The hopelessness of the case against him, at the bar of reason and equity, as well as in tribunals of the law, alone averted the doom which the triumphant North would have eagerly meted out to him who was a vicarious sufferer for the imputed or alleged treason of an entire people. It would have been equally consistent and rational to hang the humblest private in Lee's army as to execute Jefferson Davis. Still the cloud hung about our Southern leader, and Lee, who himself was a prisoner on parole and remained such until his death, was intensely concerned for him. With the burden of the college resting upon him, examinations and commencement at hand, he writes to
his daughter-in-law, Mrs. W. H. F. Lee, in May, 1868, “God grant that the trial of Mr. Davis may be dismissed.” When asked for his judgment of Mr. Davis and of the part played by him as President of the Confederacy, he promptly replied, “If my opinion is worth anything you can always say that few people could have done better than Mr. Davis. I know of none that could have done as well.” It was during his attendance upon one of the sessions of the court which was to try Mr. Davis upon the charge of treason that General Lee saw a stalwart negro juror soundly asleep in his seat as he was vindicating the cause of the Confederate President with his wonted manliness and ingenuousness of action. The General remarked, his keen sense of humor asserting itself, that had he ever been animated by oratorical aspirations, this incident would have dispelled them for all time.
The trial was deferred from term to term, and the travesty of justice at last sunk under the weight of its own absurdity. Yet during all the strain upon mind and heart that marked the final years of his life, Lee's marvelous faculty of self-repression never for a moment faltered or relaxed. That his suffering was intense as well as continuous, admits of no rational question. The vindictive temper of the conquerors grew with the increasing years, and the climax of reconstruction had not been attained when Lee fell asleep at Lexington, October 12, 1870. His fine discernment foresaw the ordeal of fire, the furnace heated seven times, through which the South was doomed to pass ere the day of her redemption should appear. Yet in the heart of the flame, when the strife was fiercest, he stood firm. His vivacity, sprightliness, far-reaching sympathy, especially for the younger generation, never revealed themselves in finer and purer light than during these fading days when his own great and catholic soul was slowly sinking under the concentrated agonies of an entire people. It was, in my judgment, the silent and unbroken agony to which he succumbed, rather than to any mere physical or bodily malady. These may have served as stimulating or accelerating influences, but the great first cause, to which all others are subordinate and secondary, was moral and spiritual, and traces its inspiration to the intense suffering of a nature touched above all others by the disasters and the despair of those to whom he had devoted his powers and dedicated his rare and comprehensive genius. Lee died of a broken heart, broken for others, not for himself. In all the records of those five closing years there is not the faintest shadow of personal disappointment, of vanity wounded by defeat, of professional humiliation, of that last infirmity of even noble mind, the hollow wraith of dying fame. Napoleon at St. Helena devoured his own heart by brooding over the retribution that had fallen upon him. The fiery spirit, beating against its prison bars, sank under the intensity of its own agony, the violence of its own struggles. Yet from Lee's lips no recorded malediction escaped during the period of his residence at Lexington, no anathemas against the power that was pursuing the people of the South unto political death. Still the unabating tension was pressing out the life, for it found no relief in utterance, it was never relaxed by outbursts of senseless rage or impotent violence. It did not even seek for sympathy, at least from men: his communion with God is shrouded in sanctity. In all such instances there is but one result.
Give sorrow words;
The grief that does not speak
Whispers the o'er-fraught heart and bids it break.
Attacks of violent cold left their impress, the signs of physical decay revealed themselves, and a trip to the South was urged by the General's medical advisers as a means of restoring his failing strength. Amid all these presaging indications of the coming of the end, his vivacity, geniality, and blithesomeness seemed unflagging. His last letters overflow with his characteristic suavity and self-forgetfulness; he seemed to take thought only for others. Yet above this brightsome exterior, and the invincible longing to minister unto others rather than to be ministered unto, to dispel their anxiety and drive away their gloomy forebodings in regard to himself, there rested the dark impenetrable cloud of an overwhelming sorrow. The trip to the South was undertaken, but Lee himself, we are persuaded, was assured that the end was near. We are inclined to believe that the real motive which prevailed upon him to acquiesce in the preparations for the journey was not the possible restoration of his own health, but the gratification of a long and ardently cherished desire to visit the grave of his daughter.
General Lee's physicians were probably aware that assured restoration was not to be looked for, and the Southern tour was resorted to as a desperate expedient that, if judiciously carried out, might prolong his earthly life, but by no possibility could have as its result permanent reestablishment of his wonted strength. In any event, if the doctors were deceived in their diagnosis, there is the strongest reason to believe that Lee thoroughly understood the situation, and was perfectly conscious that he was rapidly moving toward the twilight of eternal day. His malady was moral rather than physical, and the violent cold contracted during the winter, possibly too the derangement of the heart to which reference has been made, were not the primary or the essential agencies instrumental in his death. These were rather the outward and visible expression of the inward and invisible sorrow, the grief that was borne in silent majesty, in almost god-like isolation, that never once sought utterance or relief, through the universal medium of human speech.
I have intimated that the inspiration of Lee's last visit to the South proceeded from an entirely different motive than the recovery of his own health. In this, as in all his actions, self played no part. The “sublime repression” of personal aims, aspirations, yearnings which Tennyson accentuates as the distinctive glory of his ideal hero, was exhibited in the character of our Confederate chief. The resistless power that drew Lee to the Carolinas and Georgia once more, was the long and ardently cherished desire to visit the grave of his daughter, Miss Annie Carter Lee, who died at the White Sulphur Springs, Warren County, N.C, on the 20th of October, 1862. Miss Lee was in the flower of dawning womanhood, and died away from home and family, though most tenderly cared for by the ladies of North Carolina during her illness. Her death fell like a blow upon her father, then in the critical stage of one of his most remarkable campaigns. The colossal weight of our newborn Confederacy rested upon him, he was “the pillar of a people's hope,” yet in the silence of the night-watches, as the army enjoyed its hardly earned rest, he meditated like the psalmist, and his heart turned to the lonely resting-place of his child, she who perpetuated the name of his own mother, Annie Carter. It was then no illusive dream of reinvigorated health that led Lee to the South. The strong and all-prevailing motive was the gratification of the longing of years to look upon the place of her rest. When contemplated from this point of view, the incident constitutes the most pathetic and appealing episode in Lee's life. When I endeavor to recall the occasion of his daughter's death, far from home and family, and borne to her grave with hardly one mourner of her own name following, mother and sister cut off by the impassable barriers of war, the father and brothers in the forefront of the battle, the scene rises to a height of a fine drama and the words of Laertes at the burial of Ophelia come to me:
Lay her in the earth,
And from her fair and unpolluted flesh
May violets spring!
The end, however, is not yet. Scarcely had the storm of war passed over when the ladies of Warren County, among whom Miss Lee had lived and died, despite the wreck of their fortunes and the death of their hopes, devised a plan to designate her grave by an appropriate and becoming monument. The harrying of the South, the complete extinction for a period of material resources, rendered an aspiring or ambitious design unattainable and impossible of realization. An artist of local fame wrought a modest and graceful monument, which marks the resting place of our hero's idolized daughter. The Ode, written bv James Barron Hope of Norfolk, Virginia, and read on the occasion of the dedication of this monument, was a masterpiece.
MONUMENT ERECTGED TO THE MEMORY OF MISS ANNIE CARTER LEE
NEAR WARRENTON, N.C.
The origin and completion of the monument to Miss Annie Carter Lee, especially in view of the circumstances under which the monument assumed a definite form and was carried out to an assured result, constitutes one of the most pathetic and appealing episodes in the life of our Confederate hero. For this reason, together with the facts, that nearly all those concerned in its erection have passed to their rest, and that accurate accounts of the several stages in the development of the enterprise are rare and difficult to obtain, I have dwelt upon the incident with unusual minuteness of detail. Mr. Hope's Elegiac Ode, written especially for the occasion of the formal dedication of the monument, should be shielded with zealous care from the touch of time. The design was conceived during the progress of the war, and an enfeebled Confederate soldier whose name was Crowder, and whose vocation was that of a stone-mason, was especially detailed to carry the plan into execution. This disabled soldier, utterly unfit for active service, had applied to General Lee for instructions as to the proper mode of procedure in order to procure a final discharge from military duty. In reply he received a letter containing specific directions, with a line or two of kind and cheering words added in Lee's own handwriting. The letter he preserved with religious care. The comprehensive tenderness and sympathy of our chief embraced the humblest of his followers. In the mean time, Mr. Joseph S. Jones of Warren County, N.C, one of the first to conceive the design, if not the original projector, applied to the Confederate War Department for a special detail of Zerral Crowder, the disabled soldier, in order that he might devote himself to the construction of the monument, a request which was promptly and cheerfully complied with. The result was accomplished in due time, and the impressive ceremonies connected with its dedication took place under a serene and cloudless Southern sky on the 8th of August, 1866. The monument, which stands in the ancestral grave-yard of Mr. Joseph S. Jones, is Graeco-Egyptian in style; a Doric base surmounted by an obelisk. To adopt, as most appropriate, the language of the committee of ladies in their letter to General Lee, “It is a plain and simple shaft, sculptured from [their] native granite by an invalid Confederate soldier, whom General Bragg in his kindness detailed for this purpose.” “The whole structure rises to the height of about sixteen feet, and in its severe simplicity harmonizes well with the adverse destiny of those by whose affection it has been erected.” The monument bears the accompanying inscription: “Annie C. Lee, Daughter of General Robert E. Lee and Mary Custis Lee. Born At Arlington, June 1 8, 1839, And died At The White Sulphur Springs, Warren County, N.C, October 20, 1862.
‘Perfect And True Are All His Ways,
Whom Heaven Adores And Earth Obeys.’ ”
As illustrating the spirit of Southern women, their devotion to Lee and to the cause of which he was the ideal, as well as the embodiment, I quote the following lines from the invitation of the committee on the monument to General Lee: “Through the kindness and mercy of your Heavenly Father, your gallant sons fought the good fight even to the end, and you were spared amid the shock of battle and its horrid carnage for four long years. Spared to us, a grateful people, who feel linked to you in the closest ties of friendship, and the closest bonds of sympathy. We cannot honor you with too deep a reverence, nor love you with an affection too pure and fervent. You have a home in every heart, a welcome in every household, and the whisper of your name echoes a thousand blessings upon you and yours.”
The Ode is inserted in full.
Upon my journey hitherward I crossed
A shining stream, born of the silver rills,
Which, in the distant purple ridge, are lost
Amid Virginia's hills.
Onward it flows, nor once its force abates,
That gleaming river, kissing cliff and lea,
A bond, dear friends, between our Mother States,
It sweeps on to the sea.
Enriching all your spreading lowland fields,
Enriched in turn by bearing on its breast
The bounties which your agriculture yields
From glebes with wealth oppressed.
And on that tide which from Virginia starts—
Born where the mountain streamlets fret and foam,
This wealth in part sweeps on to Norfolk's marts,
The city of my home.
But there are other bonds, far stronger ties
Than ever mutual traffic can create;
Here rises sculptured proof before our eyes
Of love from State to State.
Here Carolina comes, her brave cheeks warm
And wet with tears, to take in charge this dust,
And brings her daughters to receive in form
Virginia's sacred trust.
Poor in all else, but rich in graves, my State
Folds Carolina's children in her breast,
And fronting with a royal brow her fate
She watches where they rest.
Her daughters to those hushed encampments go,
Where soldiers sleep, but where no banner waves—
Both States like sisters pierced by common woe
Now guard each other's graves.
And in this graveyard we have food for thought,
Here too are problems which must give us pause—
Problems which God's wise Providence has wrought
Through His benignant laws.
We stand here in this Summer's silence deep
Like swimmers halting on the sudden brink
Of some dark river, whose mysterious sweep,
Though voiceless, bids us think!
In the cold earth these seeds went to decay.
Then, lo! there came a God-directed change—
A change which carried on by night and day,
In workings hid and strange—
Brought forth great glory to the face of earth,
In pomp of trees, and blooms, and waving corn,
Which in decay will find a second birth
Of dissolution born.
And as we view each green pathetic sod
Mounded in order like successive waves,
Crested with marble; or with grass from God
To beautify the graves:
Some here whose hearts have been of tears the wells,
Whose dreams have changed from rose to sober brown,
Might envy those who foundered 'neath these swells
Which show where they went down.
And, hence I said, thinking of youth's wild dreams,
Its lights and shadows made of hopes and fears,
That, Death, oh, friends! is kinder than he seems
And not the King of Tears.
Think not I take a false view of this life;
I trust I read it as is meet and fit:
I try to understand the pain and strif
Wherewith 'tis all o'erwrit.
And through our journey each must bear his load
From the flushed morn 'till even's sober hours,
And thorns will pierce us all along the road
Where we had looked for flowers.
But he who these sharp lessons rightly heeds
Accepts the thorns in place of painted bloom,
And learns through all the anguish, as he bleeds,
To hold the silent tomb.
But as the bed, where chastened is our pride,
Made pure by sorrow and affliction's rod.
Our frames, like seeds, shall lay their husks aside
That they may grow t'ward God.
He chastens us as nations and as men,
He smites us sore until our pride doth yield,
And hence our heroes each with hearts for ten
Were vanquished in the field;
And stand to-day beneath our Southern sun
O'erthrown in battle and despoiled of hope.
Their drums all silent and their cause undone,
And they all left to grope
In darkness till God's own appointed time
In His own manner fully passeth by.
Our Penance this. His Parable sublime
Means we must learn to die.
Not as our soldiers died beneath their flags,
Not as in tumult and in blood they fell
When from their columns, clad in homely rags.
Rose the Confederate yell.
Not as they died, though never mortal men
Since Tubal Cain first forged his cruel blade,
Fought as they fought, nor ever shall again
Such leader be obeyed!
No, not as died our knightly soldier dead,
Though they I trust have found above surcease
For all life's troubles, but on Christian bed
Should we depart in peace,
Falling asleep like those whose gentle deeds
Are governed through time's passion and its strife,
So gently that we might erect new creeds
From each well-ordered life.
Whose saintly lessons are so framed that we
May learn that pain is but a text sublime,
Teaching us how to learn at Sorrow's knee
To value things of time.
Thus thinking o'er life's promise-breaking dreams,
Its lights and shadows made of hopes and fears,
I say that Death is kinder than he seems,
And not the King of Tears.
Mark you each separate spear of tufted grass!
Behold each flower which opens astral eyes!
See how they point like the Host at mass
Toward the quiet skies.
Why shrink then from the tender grave aghast?
Why shed hot tears above its friendly sod?
For is it not, insooth, oh friends! the last
Great charity from God?
Let perfect faith bind up each bleeding heart,
Smile through your tears upon its grassy slope,
Since Christ hath slumbered may we not depart
Sustained by Christian hope?
The realms of Nature and of Art are rich
In images of blessed peace and calm
In which this yard may well be figured—which
May soothe us like a Psalm,
Chanted at evening by the silver notes
Of singing children watched by Mother's eyes,
When some confession of the Hebrew floats
Toward the tranquil skies.
'Tis like an abbey with the monks in cells,
The nuns invisible, all pale and fair,
Where no Laudamus on the silence swells—
All still as if at prayer.
And as the abbey in the days of old
Offered repose to men when sore oppressed,
So doth the charitable grave unfold
For us a bed of rest.
Thus musing o'er life's problems in my dreams,
This radiant hope dispels my timid fears,
And whispers Death is kinder than he seems,
And not the King of Tears.
There is no death: surcease we have from strife.
There is no death: absence there is I know.
There is no death, but everlasting life.
Banish that word of woe.
In speaking of the pure in life, for He
Whose Son for us was nailed upon the cross
Hath told us surely: “For the good set free
This life were but a loss.”
Such language comes within the Evangel's scope,
Which tells us of our tender Master's care
Who died to give us an undying hope,
And stimulate to prayer.
Four summers now have waked the songs of birds,
Made violets blow and stained the roses red
Since first we heard the unenlightened words
That Annie Lee was dead.
Heed not the words which those pain-stricken said,
The lips of those who spoke them were enticed
In grief's first passion to declare her dead
Who was the 'Bride of Christ.
Ye then who whispered it within your halls,
Might envy her of whom ye heard the tale,
That she within this monastery's walls
That day put on her veil.
Yes, you, my friends, who stand with me to pay
Your homage to the dust beneath this sod,
Might envy her who journeyed that day
To meet a smiling God.
With all her wealth of womanhood—her truth—
Her innocence and purity of life—
In the full promise of her golden youth,
With all perfection rife.
She felt the sorrows of this troubled sphere.
Escaped the tumults which distract the land;
A radiant Angel whispered in her ear,
And God stretched forth His hand.
We think on life's harsh facts and broken dreams,
Its lights and shadows, made of hopes and fears,
And feel that Death is kinder than he seems,
And not the King of Tears.
Gazing around upon this tranquil scene,
Where shady woodlands stretch in vernal pride,
Where wave the fields in tender hues of green,
With life on every side,
We read a lesson in God's open Book;
All the fair pages with one great text is rife,
And though we run we yet read in one look
That death but leads to life.
The trees which lift their crests against the sky,
The harvests rippling in the heated breath
Of every breeze which Morn or Noon swept by,
Themselves were born of death.<.p>
The acorn held yon oak—the cone yon pine—
The flinty corn contained its tassel's mane,
These in the earth through God's all wise design,
Have for a season lain.
Her gentle spirit now is throned above,
And hence, I say, you need not tell in tears
Beads counted on the Rosary of Love
For her beyond the spheres.
Against such candid spirits whose worst ends
Had Virtue's sanction, death cannot prevail,
And so I said to you but now, oh, friends!
That here she took the veil
Here, in this cloister, hushed by a great spell
The monks and nuns all find surcease from care
And rest themselves, each in a narrow cell,
All still as if at prayer!
And though the abbey in the days of old
Was a retreat to soothe the troubled breast,
Still it had days of purple and of gold
To break its tranquil rest.
On some high festival the minster's stalls
Were broken in their customary calms,
And long processions from its sacred walls,
Poured out with chanted Psalms.
Mitre and crosier 'mid the vocal bands
O'er which the gazer saw their banners toss,
While borne aloft by consecrated hands
Blazed the atoning cross.
On the Last Day, as the Apostle tells,
God gathers all from graves of land and sea,
Then monks and nuns will quicken in their cells
Day of Grace, and Day of Wonder!
And there amid the radiant, white-stoled nuns,
In a great sea of glory and of grace
From God[s own smile, brighter than many suns
Shall shine this maiden's face.
And as the long procession
Rises up with swell on high
Their hymn of intercession
For the souls not born to die:
Christe Mediator Noster!
Day of Grace, and Day of Wonder!
Amid elemental thunder
Christ hath burst the grave asunder,
And ascended to the sky!
There He standeth—there He bleedeth,
There He with the Father pleadeth,
Praying that we may not die,
Knowing what each sinner needeth,
Tenderly He intercedeth
That death of death may pass us by.
And as we, in terror quaking,
Start at that august awaking,
There shall rise from all who've slumbered,
With this Sainted Maiden numbered,
Loud and long the imploring cry:
Christe Mediator Nosier!
“Save us, Master, or we die.”
And our Master then will hear us,
Tenderly He will draw near us,
Gracious He will then upbear us,
Those who did not sin to die.
Christe Mediator Noster,
We beseech Thee guard and foster
Those who loved her, and who lost her
In Thy wise beneficence:
Silent under Thy infliction
Give them, Christ, Thy benediction!
Hear this humble supplication
From the wrung heart of a nation
Thou hast stricken to the dust!
Father of our second birth
As we give our swords to rust
In Thy hands we put this trust:
As thou guardest her in heaven,
Guard the parents upon earth.
We have now the explanation of Lee's acquiescence in the proposed trip to the South. He himself intimates as much in two of his letters written while the details of the journey were being completed, with that soldierly precision and minuteness which distinguished him to the end. In a letter written to Miss Mildred Lee, March 21, 1870, he expresses his reluctance to undertaking the trip, insofar as it related to his own recovery or improvement. He thinks that he should “do better” in the quiet and restfulness of his home, but acquiesces on account of the tender solicitude shown for his recovery by family and friends; and, above all, this being the paramount and determining motive—the thought of seeing that lonely grave. “I wish,” he says in this same letter, “to visit my dear Annie's grave before I die. I have always desired to do so since the cessation of active hostilities, but have never been able. I wish to see how calmly she sleeps away from us all, with her dear hands folded over her breast as if in mute prayer, while her pure spirit is traversing the land of the blessed. I shall diverge from the main route of travel for this purpose, and it will depend somewhat upon my feelings and somewhat upon my procuring an escort for Agnes, whether I go further South.” On March 22, 1870, he writes to Gen. W. H. F. Lee: “I shall go first to Warrenton Springs, N.C, to visit the grave of my dear Annie, where I have always promised myself to go, and I think, if I am to accomplish it, I have no time to lose. I wish to witness her quiet sleep, with her dear hands crossed over her breast, as it were in mute prayer, undisturbed by her distance from us, and to feel that her pure spirit is waiting in bliss in the land of the blessed.” In each of these letters the impelling and essential motive of the trip is clearly intimated.
Lee himself was not far from the eternal twilight. His sagacious and discerning judgment had not been deceived by his medical advisors. Our modern Arthur was well aware that the island valley of Avilion was not remote; the blade Excalibur must soon sink in the mystic mere, and the mystic barge soon be in waiting.
Only a few details have been preserved of Lee's last journey to the South. The universal homage accorded to him at every point was such as has never been bestowed upon any American, not even perhaps upon Washington himself. From all forms of public demonstration he shrank with characteristic reluctance. The General, accompanied by his daughter, Miss Agnes Lee, reached Richmond, March 27, 1870. On the 29th he writes to Mrs. Lee; and on April 2 we find him at Savannah, Ga. From this latter point he writes to Mrs. Lee in regard to his sojourn at Warrenton, N.C., and the realization of the long-cherished dream. Pleasure and sadness seem to have blended in the visit; retrospect and prospect—the memory of the loved one came back from all the mystic founts that rise before us at the resting-places of those who are gone into the world of light; and then the father was thoroughly conscious that the time of reunion was near at hand. Little more than half a year had vanished into the past, when Lee and his daughter met beyond the vail.
Miss Agnes writes from Savannah, April 3, a more detailed and circumstantial account of the General's visit to Warren County. The gift of elaborating, of presenting details in attractive form, of seizing and portraying the essential features, are eminently reflected in the letters of Miss Agnes Lee during this visit to the South with her father. The General and his daughter met the ladies who had cared for Annie Lee, and who erected the monument. It was in the heart of the Southern spring, the period which to my imagination recalls our lost Eden to life. The exuberant floral wreath of our Southland was lavished upon the General and his daughter. Mr. Hope, who like the pre-Raphaelite apostle, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, combined the shaping spirit of the poet with the artistic mastery of the pencil and the brush, reproduced the monument and its surroundings in the form of a painting, and to this Miss Agnes Lee refers in terms of commendation for its fidelity to truth.
Some days were passed in Savannah, but the details of the visit are few and limited. The same spontaneous homage, the same unfaltering affection, the same instinctive and pervading courtesy met the General and his daughter everywhere. All classes and conditions vied with one another in the manifestation of reverence and love, of devotion to a cause and of affection for its champion. It was a triumphant procession, a victorious march from first to last.
The glory of the Southern spring-tide seems to have appealed to both the General and his daughter with peculiar power. To those born and bred under austerer skies, the spring season in the far South is one of Nature's unique revelations of her own incomparable power and winsomeness. The Northern tourist, escaping from the bleak and desolate winter that shrouds New England, plunges eagerly from the sleeper as he touches the enchanted borders of Carolina and Georgia and grasps the jasmine and honeysuckle, then in the natural richness of their fleeting life, and with laden arms rushes back to his train as if he had captured the rarest of trophies. The idealizing grace of poesy has not failed to glorify this queen of the seasons as it asserts its fascination, and we are disposed to be grateful that Lee's final visit to the people who loved him fell during this most auspicious and congenial period of the speeding year. Miss Agnes seems to have been overwhelmed with the floral beauty, the rare and wanton prodigality of Nature. She describes the scene with an artistic appreciation. And a poet who had then recently passed to his rest in the adjoining State of South Carolina, has wrought its glory and its charm, its appealing beauty and plaintiveness into lines that rush to memory by some magical association, for our bard, too, was a Confederate, and threw all the passion of his soul into the cause of which Lee was the inspiration, as well as the idealization.
Spring, with that nameless pathos in the air
Which dwells with all things fair,
Spring, with her golden and silver rain,
Is with us once again.
Out in the lonely woods the jasmine burns
Its fragrant lamps, and turns
Into a royal court with green festoons
The banks of dark lagoons.
In the deep heart of every forest tree,
The blood is still aglee,
And there's a look about the leafless bowers
As if they dreamed of flowers.
* * * * * * * * * * *
In gardens you may note amid the dearth
The crocus breaking earth;
And near the snowdrop's tender white and green,
The violet in its screen.
At times a fragrant breeze comes floating by,
And brings you know not why
A feeling as when eager crowds await
Before a palace gate.
Some wondrous pageant; and you scarce would start,
If from a beech's heart,
A blue-eyed Dryad, stepping forth should say,
“Behold me! I am May.”
Savannah was not the only Georgia city which lavished its love and homage on Robert E. Lee. Similar demonstrations marked his visit to Augusta; his entire Southern tour was rather the triumphal march of a conquering hero than the reception of a fallen leader by a people whose dreams of national autonomy had vanished in the vast, whose flags were furled, whose hopes were dead. The officers and men who had clung to his standard and wrested victory from disaster were eager to renew their allegiance and pledge once more their faith. Above all was the invincible devotion of the women of the South. Their faith has never faltered, their zeal has never grown cold, even when men, the slaves of venal instinct, or the parasites of all dominant power, have lost their knightliness and proved recreant to the cause of which Lee was the ideal and the inspiration. When has a Southern woman lost her first estate and proved false to the land of her nativity and the truth embodied in its cause? No marvel, then, that such incomparable heroism “elicited the highest admiration” of Lee. This invincible faith which characterized the attitude of the women of the South toward Lee was one of the distinctive and essential sources of his moral and intellectual strength. It followed him to the climax at Appomattox, and rising from the burial of hopes and the desolation of fortune, like the eagle renewing his strength, it gave a fresh earnest of devotion in the chaste and graceful shaft which marked the lonely grave of his fair young daughter.
There was on Georgia soil a spot which, though remote and isolated, possessed for Lee a peculiar sacredness, an especial sanctity. It is true that he had looked upon it during his first visit, when in command of the defenses of the Southern coast in the winter of 1861–62. Reverence, especially for those who have passed into the heavens in advance of us, who have preceded us to glory, was wrought into the very soul of Lee. And once more, after eight thrilling and historic years, he stands at the sepulchre of “Light Horse Harry.” The grave was decorated with flowers by Miss Agnes Lee, was found “in good order,” though Cumberland Island had been laid waste and desolate, and the house in which our Revolutionary hero died, the property at one time of our foremost Revolutionary general save Washington himself, Nathaniel Greene, had been burned to the earth by the torch of the Federal soldiery. The impression left upon Lee's spirit was strong and deep, for he was perfectly conscious that it was the last time that he should be able to pay this tribute of respect to the memory of his father. Scarcely more than six months had passed over, when father and son, who had hardly known each other during their earthly life, met in the sphere of the redeemed.
And at this point and suggested by this characteristic incident, I venture to express hope which I trust will not be construed as either visionary or Utopian. The ashes of Lee's father have lain in their remote and isolated resting-place since his death in March, 1818. The circumstances of his death, his long years of enfeebled health, his separation from wife and children in the hopeless quest of health I have described. His part in the riot at Baltimore, during the war of 1812 (August, 1812), at which time he received injuries from whose effect he never recovered, reflects the characteristic nobility of the Lee nature. He was wounded while struggling to defend the inmates of the house at which he was a visitor from the assault of a frenzied mob. The house which was the point of attack has within recent memory undergone a process of reconstruction, and the skeletons of some of those who fell in the encounter have been brought to light. Robert E. Lee was then a child in his sixth year. Apart, however, from this episode which shows his nature, “Light Horse Harry” was one of the most impressive, as well as fascinating figures that our Southern civilization has given to the world. To the ordinary imagination he appeals as a brilliant cavalier, a dashing commander of horse, and a favorite of Washington's, our great chief according to tradition having been in his youth an ardent lover of Miss Grimes, “the lowland beauty” who was the mother of Henry Lee.
GENERAL “LIGHT HORSE HARRY” LEE, FATHER OF GENERAL LEE
It was the belief of the time that Washington cherished a peculiar tenderness for Lee, inspired by the remembrance of his own early affection for his mother. Leaving out of consideration all such incidents or episodes as may savor of romance or sentiment, as a simple historic fact Henry Lee was one of the foremost characters developed during our Revolutionary and Colonial era. The war with the mother country opened when he was but nineteen years of age; he entered the service as a captain of cavalry, and fame as a military leader came to him from the first. His culture was that of the eighteenth century gentleman of the purest social rank. His scholastic training was received at Princeton; his literary acquirements were comprehensive as well as versatile; there is no military commander of the Revolution who excels him in the extent and the accuracy of his attainments. Had he fallen under the eye of Thackeray, that master of the re-creative element in fiction would have cast the luster of his genius over him, and Lee would have ranked with Esmond in the category of matchless soldiers and peerless gentlemen. His letters to his son, Charles Carter Lee, an elder brother of Robert, then a student at Harvard, are models of grace, of fine literary perception, of tactfulness, philosophic wisdom, and purity of diction, such as would have adorned the style and illustrated the charms of our Augustan age. His “Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department of the United States,” which was edited by his illustrious son during his final years at Lexington, is entitled to take rank as a classic in the literature of soldierly achievement. Even a casual reading of his letters reveals the training he had received in the school of Pope, Steele, and Addison. The unbought grace of life shines through the style; the touch of the Tatler and the Spectator is discerned, in the trend of thought, as well as in the suavity and polished ease that mark the vocabulary of this most accomplished of Revolutionary soldiers. His narrative of the final campaign of the Revolution rises to an interest that is more than dramatic as he dwells upon strategic movements in parts of Virginia such as Orange and Fredericksburg, which nearly a century later were to become the scene of some of those masterful achievements that have cast their radiance over the name of his son. He feels perfectly assured in regard to Robert, he writes to his elder brother, Charles Carter Lee, from the West Indies, because he is in the care of his mother. The boy never looked upon his father again; for not long after the date of this letter, Henry Lee died at Dungeness on Cumberland Island, March 25, 1818, at the age of sixty-one. During his final illness, remote from home and family, he was nursed with tender care by Mrs. Shaw, the daughter of General Greene, his former commander.
Nearly ninety years have passed into history, the storm of war burst upon the lonely island, and while the grave escaped the hand of the spoiler, the house in which Lee died, a home rich in Revolutionary associations, was destroyed by Federal soldiers. Ought not the dust of “Light Horse Harry” to lie as near as practicable to the grave of his immortal son? Is it not reasonable to hope that such a result may be accomplished ? The country is intent, and justly too, upon the transfer of John Paul Jones from his recently discovered grave in the French metropolis to a final sepulture upon American soil. All that is mortal of “the father of our Navy” will be greeted with a tumult of acclaim, with enthusiasm born of patriotism, and inspired by a sense of grateful appreciation. Yet the father of one of the foremost men of all this Western world, a perfect flower of American civilization, lies in a lonely grave upon a remote and isolated island apart from every one of his own household and all that bear his imperishable name.
Records and letters relating to the closing stages of the Southern tour are limited in number, and lacking in detailed and circumstantial accounts of places or incidents. This absence of minute narrative may be attributed in large degree to physical depression, for Miss Agnes Lee, under favorable auspices, was never wanting in the characteristic charms of a lady correspondent, vivacity, blithesomeness, explicit and definite statement—in brief just the elements that one seeks and finds only in a lady's letter.
Not long after the visit to Cumberland Island, about the middle of April (1870), the General and his daughter turned their faces toward Virginia, stopping at Charleston and Wilmington on the route. At Charleston they were the guests of a gentleman who had two sons at Washington College, and were received with that stately and comprehensive courtesy which neither the desolations of nature, the frenzy of war, nor the touch of fast speeding ages has effaced from the social forces that dominate this typical city of the old South. The General attended service at St. Michael's Church and was assigned to the pew which had been occupied by George Washington upon the occasion of his memorable visit to Charleston, not as the idol of a fallen cause, but as the creator of a new national life, with the halo of achievement and the glory of Yorktown resting over him like transcendent light. Yet the reception bestowed upon Lee probably surpassed in fervor that of which Washington was the recipient, while it did not equal it in mere spectacular or ceremonial splendor. The people of Charleston were at this period just entering the fiery furnace of reconstruction, their hopes were dead, their future was hidden behind the cloud, they lived in dreams and retrospection; for the memory of their past alone abode with them. Of that past Lee was the loftiest concrete expression, the purest ideal; toward him all hearts went forth as to a prophet or apostle whose very presence was an inspiration, a healing benediction to his people in the climax of adversity, and moving as it were into the ghostly sphere of untempered and absolute despair. They could say, truly,
Our only wealth is in tears and flowers,
And words of reverend praise.
The past is now like an Arctic Sea
Where the living currents have ceased to run,
But over that past the fame of Lee,
Shines out as the “Midnight Sun.”
St. Michael's, at which Lee worshiped, is in the front rank of historic churches so far as they exist in our fresh and dawning American life. It was completed in 1761, and is in a measure modeled upon St. Martin's In The Fields, London, one of the famed structures that sprung into grace and beauty by the inspiration of Wren, after the desolating fire of 1666. To all representative Charlestonians, it is a center of civic, as well as ecclesiastical and historic pride. It was a shining mark for the Federal artillery during the siege of 1863–65, looking, as its soaring spire does, far out into the broad expanse of the harbor; and more than once vast shells, hurled by distant batteries, have been plucked from its walls, and gathered from its foundations as the process of restoration or reconstruction laid bare their hiding-places beneath the sacred altars. Cyclone and seismic force have buffeted the ancient structure, but it still endures. Its chimes are known in all lands, and have been glorified in romance, and idealized in song. Within its grounds lie men whose fame is a part of our national record—jurists, poets, statesmen, centers of light and powers that made for righteousness. Yet the golden day in all its calendar was that on which Lee crossed its threshold and was assigned to the seat which had been reserved for George Washington.
We next find the General at Wilmington, the guest of Hon. George W. Davis, who had been Attorney-General in the Cabinet of President Davis. In all points, Mr. Davis represented the purest ideals of the Southern life which has fallen into shadow, and General Lee assuredly found his home a congenial resting-place.
It was during his sojourn at Wilmington that General Lee met once more his friend of former years, Bishop Atkinson, whom he had known during his life in Baltimore, 1849–52, the Bishop being then Rector of St. Peter's Episcopal Church. Not long after peace had been formally restored, the first Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States in which the Church in the South had been represented for four years, met in the city of Baltimore. A bishop representing one of the Northern dioceses introduced a resolution in the nature of congratulations upon the success of the Union arms, the restoration of the national authority, and the overthrow of the Confederacy. Bishop Atkinson, with characteristic dignity and manliness of bearing entered his protest against the contemplated action. He declared that he could not concur in the resolution, for, though acquiescing in the situation as determined by the arbitrament of war, he had hoped and prayed for a different result. The resolution was withdrawn, and the rift in the lute was soon healed so that its music broadened into a deeper and nobler harmony. We can readily imagine that a heroic nature like that of Bishop Atkinson must have appealed resistlessly to the fine spirit of Lee. To one of his ethereal temper, the worshiper of expediency, the cringing sycophant, the recreant who prostrates himself before the altar of absolute and triumphant power, must have seemed the most odious and revolting of all the types and incarnations which human depravity is capable of assuming.
From Wilmington the General and his daughter move northward and are found at Norfolk as the guests of friends who deemed themselves honored and their home vested with a sort of sanctity from the fact that Lee passes over its threshold. Such was the prevailing sentiment of the South. “General Lee called to see us,” was the remark of one friend to another upon the occasion of Lee's visit. “Then your house is forever honored,” was the immediate reply. When, in all ages, has such surpassing wealth of affection been lavished upon a single man by every class, condition and estate, the noble and the peasant, the child in arms, the oracle and the sage, the sovereigns of scholarship across the seas, the humble private in the ranks, the servitor who subsisted by his bounty, the creatures like Traveler, who responded to his kindly and imperial sway.
It is evident that the General was conscious that his malady could have but one issue. He intimates this on more than a single occasion, and during his sojourn at Wilmington he frankly avowed his opinion that the derangement of the heart with which he was affected was beyond all power of relief from medical treatment. In accordance with his own request, every form of ceremonial or public demonstration was avoided during his visit to the hospitable and warmhearted metropolis of North Carolina.
From ancient Norfolk, rich in Revolutionary memories, loyal to the heart in its devotion to the traditions and ideals of the South in her golden age, the General prepares for a visit to those stately Virginia homes which are the pride and the glory of the James River, Upper and Lower Brandon, and Shirley, the last having been the girlhood home of his mother, Annie Carter, and invested with sacred interest to Lee as the place at which she was married to “Light Horse Harry.” The Brandons, the home of the Harrisons, had been rescued in a measure from the desolating touch of the Federal spoiler by the special interposition of Mr. Lincoln. At Lower Brandon President W. H. Harrison sojourned periodically during his dawning youth and the stately homestead was exempted from ruin by the emphatic mandate of one of his successors. In wealth of historic association the James is unique among American rivers; its natural charm and beauty is the appropriate counterpart to that richness of reminiscence which invests its shores, and traces its origin to the planting of our English civilization at Jamestown in May, 1607. To Lee the trip must have appealed with especial power; it was the very heart of ancestral Virginia; its early stages, its original foundation had thrilled the imagination of Shakespeare and evoked a tribute unique in all his drama. To the soul of Lee, however, prominent and transcendent was the thought that it marked the childhood home of his adored mother.
From the James River, the General traveled by way of Richmond to the White House on the Pamunkey, at that time the home of his son. Gen. W. H. F. Lee. At this point he was joined by Mrs. Lee, who had come from Lexington to meet him. The White House belonged to the Lee family by rightful inheritance, for it was part of the estate of Mrs. Martha Custis, the great-grandmother of that same Mary Custis whom young Robert Lee married at Arlington, June 30, 1831, and who now has rejoined the General in the halls of her own ancestors. Not far away, at the colonial Church of St. Peter's, in January, 1759, the marriage of Washington to Mrs. Martha Custis was celebrated with all the mimic pomp and spectacular splendor in which our ancestors exulted. The association of the two foremost names in American history with this Virginia home, invests it with a sanctity that time cannot wither, and clothes it with all the halo and brilliance that spring from romance. During his stay in eastern Virginia, the Brandons, Shirley, the White House, the same unflagging love and devotion were manifested on all sides. Crowds flocked to the landings of the steamer in order to look upon his face, old soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia thronged to testify their love and loyalty, the children were inspired by a simple glance at the ideal gentleman, and strangers from England counted it the most auspicious day in their calendar when they came into contact with this model of manly grace, of “simplicity sublime,” and felt as if they had gazed upon the countenance of an angel. Yet despite this exuberant wealth of affection, the General showed no sign of marked or essential improvement. From home to home he went, friends, kindred, all, including a visit to his youngest son and namesake, Captain Robert E. Lee, at “Romancoke” on the Pamunkey, some fifteen miles from the White House. The floral richness that reigned at Brandon and the White House appealed deeply to the General and Mrs. Lee, the latter observing that she “had not seen so many wild flowers since she left Arlington.” Minute descriptions are given by each of the rare prodigality of nature. One seems almost to be hand in hand with Milton dreaming over Lycidas with that idealization of the flowery realm which is one of the special notes the poet gives to glory.
In all that emanates from Lee this strong touch of nature love reveals its power. He yearns for a country home, rural associations ; the traces of his English ancestry and his life as a gentleman of Virginia are accountable for this marked characteristic. To Lee the streaming roar of great cities would have been not only uncongenial, but almost intolerable.
By May 23 (1870) the General had accomplished his tour of lower Virginia and was at Richmond on his way to Lexington. He had completed his visit to “Rob” at Romancoke, and after a second brief sojourn at the White House was spending a few days in the former capital of the Confederate States. From this point he writes to his daughter, Miss Mildred Lee at Lexington. Some of his wonted vivacity and blithesomeness shines out in this letter. The same regard for precision, the same scrupulous adherence to detail, and above all, the same supreme consideration for the comfort and the wishes of others, are exhibited in every utterance. He is evidently skeptical, if not hopeless, with reference to his own recovery, and indulges in a touch of most amiable pleasantry with respect to an impending medical consultation, describing it as “a grand medicine talk” that was to take place on the next day. And now Lee is at home again, the summer has come, and there is the annual routine of college examinations, commencement, and the wonted hospitable functions of the season confronting him. The Southern tour had been productive of no result, save that exhilaration of spirits and brightness of heart which spring from renewed associations, from the consciousness of universal love, from the assurance of all prevailing devotion to the cause to which his life had been a consecration, and whose downfall was destined to prove the essential agent in precipitating his death. It is said that upon a certain occasion, Lee being asked by a friend in regard to the state of his health, he laid his hand upon his heart and replied, “The trouble is here.” It is evident that he was not referring to any physical infirmity or derangement, but to that crushing weight of moral and mental distress endured for his own people, under which the strong man was bowing himself. Physical tendencies may have been stimulated, their energy increased by this depression, but they were not the determining power that brought Lee to the grave. The efficient cause lay in a purer and higher sphere than the material or visible agencies that are the instruments or the accessories of death.
The college session reached its close, the commencement had passed, the last at which Lee was to preside. As soon as the final labors of the scholastic year were done, we find him in Baltimore for the purpose of seeking medical advice, a course adopted doubtless more in deference to the wishes of his loved ones than suggested by even a hope of final recovery. During the trip the General suffered acutely from the intense July heat, a result in a measure to be ascribed to the gradual failure of his own resistive energy and power of endurance. Elaborate directions were laid down by his physician, Dr. Thomas H. Buckler, who traced his infirmity to “rheumatic excitement,” and did not discover any essential or even serious derangement in the condition of the heart. As a result of the prolonged examination, the extreme heat, and the fatigue of his journey, he was late “in getting up” on a certain morning—he could not arise until 8 A.M. He was an ardent advocate of early rising, and not only advocated it, but illustrated his theory in his daily life with unvarying faithfulness. He knew that his family would enjoy his seeming deflection from his own rigorous habit, but perhaps even their loving eyes failed to discover how deep and how vital was the cause that lay behind.
The General took advantage of this his last visit to call upon many of the friends of former years whose homes were easily accessible from Baltimore and Washington. It was during this his last visit to the scenes and places endeared to him by the memories of his youth that General Lee was the guest of his near kinsman, Mr. Cassius Lee, of Alexandria. He doubtless enjoyed that sense of freedom, that lack of conventional restraint of which one is never so thoroughly conscious as amid the associations of childhood, and the friends of early days. His wonted reserve was thrown aside and inspired by that feeling of restfulness and security which springs from the charm and sweetness of early friendship, and he spoke with marked freedom in regard to several of the most critical incidents connected with the campaigns of the Army of Northern Virginia. Would that some Boswell had preserved for us an accurate and minute account of these invaluable utterances. His position in regard to the battle of Gettysburg was at least made perfectly clear and is a matter of historic record. General Lee thought and said that if Jackson had been at Gettysburg we should have gained a victory; “for,” he added, “Jackson would have held the heights which Ewell took on the first day. Ewell,” he added, “was a fine officer, but would never take the responsibility of exceeding his orders, and having been ordered to Gettysburg, he would not go farther and hold the heights beyond the town.” This fatal error, together with Longstreet's delay in going into action, lost us the victory when it was already blazoned on our banners. No discriminating mind can impute to Lee the responsibility of our disaster at Gettysburg. If his intentions had been carried into effect, the battle fought in accordance with his plan, the result would have been one of the most brilliant achievements of which the Army of Northern Virginia holds record. To the cause of the Union the issue would have proved far more disastrous than Cold Harbor to Grant, or the assault at Fredericksburg to the hosts which Burnside advanced into the very jaws of death.
It was during the course of the conversations at the home of his cousin that Lee expressed his judgment of McClellan, and with marked emphasis pronounced him “by all odds the greatest of the Federal generals.” In order to illustrate the exigencies to which even our commanding officers were sometimes reduced, his cousin, Mr. Cassius Lee, remarked that he (Lee) would never have starved in the Confederate service if he could have gotten “bread and milk,” to which the General replied, “No, but frequently I could not get even that.”
The children of the household were profoundly impressed with Lee's affability, his minute and accurate replies to all the eager questions that spring from the insatiable curiosity of the dawning mind. Toward them his bearing was characterized by the same unvarying and persuasive graciousness, the same exact and comprehensive courtesy which marked his attitude toward older people. What a training-school in the art of good breeding, to have lived under the same roof, sat at the same board, gone in and out with Robert E. Lee. For, leaving out of consideration every other element of his unique character, he remains one of the foremost gentlemen history has known. If his martial record were effaced, if he had never set a squadron in the field, he would none the less retain his ascendency, and command our homage as the “whole world's darling,” for grace, courtliness, and all the ideals of which chivalry dreamed clothed him with transcendent brightness, as if the Grail itself had descended upon him, and cast its mystic radiance about his head.
During his final visit to the South the General came into contact with one of the teachers of his early days at Alexandria. The meeting to which he refers in his conversation at the home of Mr. Cassius Lee impressed him most deeply, for Lee's sense of reverence embraced even the instructors of his childhood. In this as in other essential regards, he was not a typical American. To his former teacher, Mr. William B. Leary, he writes with a sense of grateful appreciation, placing his services heartily at his disposal. It is said that one of the teachers of Sir Philip Sidney especially requested that his relation to Sir Philip should be commemorated upon his tombstone. With infinite pride Mr. Leary might have linked his own name in a similar manner with Lee's name, that it might live with the eternity of his fame. Toward the closing days of July we find the General at Lexington once more. Friends poured out their love upon him as he moved from point to point, from homestead to homestead, reviving early associations, living over the life of boyhood and that epoch of his manhood which presaged in its dawn the consummate splendor of his matured ripeness. The extreme heat, as well as the fluctuations of temperature, bore heavily upon him, so that despite the enjoyment of the trip from a social standpoint no essential change for the better was discernible in his health. Still, he addressed himself to his multiform labors with characteristic energy, prominent among these being the proposed demolition of the Episcopal Church at Lexington, of which he was a vestryman, and the erection in its stead of a larger and more modern structure, now the Lee Memorial Church. While absorbed in the plan for the reconstruction of the church, the General received a cordial invitation from his Baltimore physician, Dr. Thomas H. Buckler, to accompany him upon a tour of Europe, Paris having been for years the Doctor's proper home, and he was now upon the eve of his return. This invitation General Lee naturally felt constrained to decline, for the demands upon his energies at Lexington, leaving out of consideration the state of his health, were too varied and exacting to render his acceptance practicable or even possible. We of the South that had known him, loved him, and honored him, could not fail to regret the necessity laid upon him. Those who have been thrown into the stream of European life are thoroughly aware of the homage that would have been lavished upon him in the centers of old-world culture, especially in England and Scotland.
The following incident will illustrate the magnetic charm of Lee's name among those who are not in accord with our views in regard to the great struggle. Miss Mary Lee, daughter of the General, was stopping at a hotel in Naples. While reading one night, she accidentally set the mosquito netting on fire and it was destroyed before the flames could be extinguished. Miss Lee offered to pay the full value of the net, but the landlord was so rude to her that the guests, Northern as well as Southern, interfered in her protection and finally left the house. The landlord afterward pursued Miss Lee with letters, from place to place, imploring her forgiveness. At last, while Miss Lee was in London, the Neapolitan hotel proprietor called upon her, prostrating himself before her and imploring her pardon, declaring that he was a ruined man, as the fame of the incident had destroyed his business and his only hope lay in her forgiveness. In every part of England, especially, my correspondent declares, Miss Lee was received with marked respect; “no matter where she went, every door was open to the sesame of her name.”
The critical analysis of his campaigns in Virginia has brought into requisition the literary art, as well as the technical skill of officers in the foremost files of renown in the service of the German empire, and in the armies of England,—Borcke, Scheibert, Henderson, Battine,—all of whom have assigned him a surpassing rank in the brief but sharply defined array of great world champions. Several summers have sped into the past since a colossal portrait of Lee was a center of attraction in the. metropolis of Scotland, and tourists from all lands looked upon the face of the Confederate chief, while they thronged the boulevards of Princess street with its gardens of rare and unique beauty, as the rhythmic and knightly figure of Lee rose to view not far from the statue of Scott, in the heart of associations and memories re-created by historic imagination and glorified by the genius of romance. Had Lee been able to accept the invitation of Dr. Buckler, his reception in Europe would have been such as has never been accorded to any American in any capacity since the origin of our nation. Still, the fates had decreed adversely, and Lee never crossed the Atlantic.
The summer dragged its slow length along, and the General remained at Lexington after his return from Baltimore, until about the 9th of August. We find him during this interval strenuously exerting his energies in behalf of a well-known officer of the Confederate Government, whom the war had left penniless. Lee's delicate but earnest action in the case revealed the nobility of his nature in its finest light.
About the 10th of August we hear of the General at the Hot Springs, whither he had gone in quest of relief from his tenacious and unrelenting enemy, the rheumatism, which it was hoped might be benefited by the famous waters. No essential benefit was derived from his sojourn at the Springs, and he seemed thoroughly aware of this. Then, too, the strain of society bore heavily upon him, and he longed for the tranquil seclusion, the sweetness and charm of his home at Lexington. As a consequence, we are not surprised to find him there early in September, ready to resume work in the college. With his all-pervading sense of duty he could not be content unless his personal care was bestowed upon every detail, however minute or seemingly insignificant. Lee never waived or transferred responsibility. With him every element and every effort, as in some piece of art, “was toil cooperant to an end.” And so, with death confronting him, he was punctually at his post, preparing for the coming of the scholastic year.
The routine labors of his last collegiate session had hardly passed the preliminary stage and assumed a definite shape, when the blow fell upon Lee, September 28, 1870. His last letter was written on the morning of that bodeful day and was addressed to Mr. S. H. Tagart, of Baltimore, a genial gentleman who was in earnest sympathy with the cause of the South, and whose home had been honored by receiving Lee as a guest. There is a peculiar interest attaching to the letter on more grounds than one. Not only is it invested with a historic sanctity as the last penned by its author, but there marks every line an air of reviving hope, a note of blithesomeness, the suggestion of a new life dawning, which is strangely and prophetically significant. A tone of melancholy, despite all efforts to control its expression, had revealed itself in all of the correspondence which has been preserved to us from these days that prelude the coming of the end. Yet upon the very threshold of eternal day he seems thrilled with new vigor, animated by some strange current of reviving vigor, his “pains are less, and his strength greater.” He looks forward with eagerness to another visit to Baltimore during the fall in the interest of the Valley Railroad, and has in reserve the pleasing episode of meeting his friends in the city which for years was his home. The sprightly vein that touched his style in a time when hope had not lost her youth, is apparent once more in this last written utterance. It seemed as if the veil which had shrouded his face for years was rent at the last, and he stood, as it were, transfigured with the brilliance and halo of the new and broadening light into which he was unconsciously but rapidly entering.
Thy spirit ere our fatal loss
Did ever rise from high to higher;
As mounts the heavenward altar-fire,
As flies the lighter thro' the gross.
The story of Lee's last days and his death, October 12, 1870, has been told time and again, until it has passed into the consciousness of the South. The most accurate and authoritative account is probably that contributed by Col. William Preston Johnston to “Personal Reminiscences of General Robert E. Lee,” by the Rev. J. W. Jones, D.D., published in 1874. Colonel Johnston was a member of the faculty of Washington College, and one of those who watched at Lee's deathbed. He was the son of that brilliant and rising soldier Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston, who fell in the dawn of his powers, April, 1862. Colonel Johnston at a later day became president of Tulane University, New Orleans, and has passed from us only within recent years. In every sense he was eminently prepared to chronicle the meeting of our chief with the Last Enemy. In our preceding narrative we have described at length the several agencies which were regarded as instrumental in producing the death of Lee; exposure during the war, dating back as far as the Fredericksburg campaign in the winter of 1862; the contracting of acute sore throat, resulting “in rheumatic inflammation of the sac inclosing the heart.” As a consequence of this illness, his physical vigor was impaired, and severe exertion of any kind, whether on foot or mounted, was attended by pain, especially by difficulty in breathing. In October, 1869, another attack of inflammation of the heart-sac occurred, accompanied by muscular rheumatism of the back, right side, and arms. This renewed attack impaired the vigor of the heart action, the rheumatism was stimulated; weariness, languor, depression, all affected him; and the deepening flush upon his face revealed its own story. The trip to the South, so earnestly urged by his medical advisers, and the sojourn at the Hot Springs, have been described in detail. Their only effect seems to have been an exhilaration of spirit, a transient cheerfulness, a brooding warmth, especially discernible in his last letter (September 28), all of which recalled and suggested the Lee of vanished years. These, however, were merely the flashes of eternal day, the spirit soaring “from high to higher.” His recovery was beyond human skill. Lee knew this. Never for an instant was he deceived in regard to his condition. The end had no terrors for him, and when the last enemy asserted his mastery it might have been said with surpassing truth, as well as felicity of application: Verily, “he died like a man and fell like one of the princes.”
LEE MEMORIAL CHURCH, LEXINGTON, VA.
In view of his physical weakness, Lee with his fine and comprehensive delicacy seriously contemplated the tendering of his resignation as president of the college, lest his declining vigor might interfere with the efficient discharge of his duties. He yielded, however, to the remonstrances and protests of faculty and trustees, who felt that his mere name was a tower of strength. And so he retained his position and kept on with the work until the rising of the bodeful day that heralded the coming of the end. Its near approach marked no decay of energy, no abatement of zeal; on the contrary, his ardor and enthusiasm for the development of the college seemed to be intensified, and his power of application to details enhanced, as he stood almost within the valley of the shadow. His seemingly vivid and quickened vigor misled some who stood in intimate relation to him, in reference to his physical condition. In them hope sprang up once more that length of years, broader range of usefulness and honor were in reserve for him. Lee himself was not deceived. He worked while it was called to-day, assured that the night which would envelop his earthly sphere of activity was almost at hand.
Until September 28, the day on which he was stricken, Lee remained at his post. He displayed even more than his wonted energy, devoting himself assiduously to every detail of collegiate administration. It would seem that the coming of the end inspired him with a zeal and resolution to leave no feature of his administrative labors incomplete or lacking in perfection of arrangement as they were transferred to the hands of him who might assume their direction. Here, as in all the phases of his changeful and checkered life, the methodical instinct of the soldier fell into harmony with his ideal conception of duty. For him it was not only “the sublimest word in our language,” it was the supreme moral force which guided him to the end, even as he stood eye to eye with the last enemy. Lee was not in the category of those “who slept and dreamed that life was Beauty, who woke and found that life was Duty.” With him life and duty were convertible and correlated. This result he attained not by rousing from a delusive dream; but by his own moral intuitions, by the transcendent power of the absolute truth.
On the afternoon of September 28 the General was present at a meeting of the vestry of Grace Episcopal Church. The day was damp and chilly, and a great flood was setting in, the most notable in its desolating effects that had occurred in this region of Virginia for a century. Had this visitation of the mighty waters been contemporary with the age of Shakespeare, it would have been glorified in song, as the memorable flood of 1594 is introduced with characteristic power of delineation and minuteness of description by our sovereign dramatist, in Mid-Summer Night's Dream. It may be that some masterful poet of the future will seize upon the incident of the flood simultaneous with the passing of Lee, and interpret the phenomena or the portents of nature as presaging the death of princes, and as investing with preternatural grandeur and impressiveness the ascent into the heavens of our Confederate chief. The church in which the session was held was cold and damp, and the General sat with his military cape cast loosely about him. In a conversation that preceded the transaction of the business for which the meeting was assembled, he displayed his wonted sprightliness and recalled the Lee of former years. He indulged in reminiscences of Chief Justice Marshall; and of Bishop Meade, who cherished for our hero a devoted affection, and was accustomed to address him as “Robert.” Deeply is it to be deplored that no accurate record has been transmitted to us of this last conversation.
The proposed reconstruction of the church and the increase of the pastor's salary led to a prolonged discussion, General Lee acting in the capacity of chairman. There was the sum of one hundred dollars still wanting to make good the proposed increase in the salary of the rector. This he offered to contribute, simply remarking in a tone scarcely audible, “I will give that sum.” He showed traces of weariness as the long-drawn session approached its close, and his face was marked by a strange and unnatural flush; but no alarm was expressed, for none imagined or suspected that the flush was the reflection of the new and rising light. The evening fell, the vestry adjourned, and Lee went to his home hard by. It was the last occasion on which he was present at a public meeting or performed an official act. More characteristic than all is the circumstance that this had relation to the cause of religion, and to the means of subsistence provided for him who was its agent and minister.
When the General reached home tea was waiting and the family expecting his return. He was such a marvel of punctuality in every sphere of his daily routine, whether in his home life, or in his official administration, that Mrs. Lee was surprised and asked him the cause of the delay. He made no reply to her question, but taking his place at the table, stood in order to ask the divine blessing upon the evening meal. The attempt was useless: he was speechless, the voice was hushed, and with that amazing self-control which marked him even in the eye of death, he took his seat calmly, betraying no agitation, and maintaining his characteristic dignity, though perfectly assured that the time of his passing was nigh at hand. A look of acquiescence, of resignation to the infinite will clothed his face, and had the voice been able to frame an articulate utterance, they who gathered around him in loving anxiety would have listened to those words that in all ages have risen to the lips of martyrs and heroes, of confessors and champions of the truth, “Into thine hand I commend my spirit: thou hast redeemed me, O Lord God of truth.” His doctors came hastily and all that love could suggest or skill inspire was done. According to the diagnosis of the physicians, “the symptoms of his attack resembled concussion of the brain, without the attendant swoon.” There was marked debility, a slightly impaired consciousness, and a tendency to doze, but no paralysis of motion or sensation, and no evidence of suffering or inflammation of the brain. The case was treated as one of “venous congestion, and with apparently favorable results. Yet, despite their propitious auguries drawn from his physical symptoms, in view of the great mental strain he had undergone, the gravest fears were felt that the attack was mortal.” That it was mortal Lee knew from the first. To him it was no sudden or unforeseen shock. And for him,
To die is landing on some silent shore,
Where billows never break nor tempests roar;
Ere well we feel the friendly stroke 'tis o'er.
Yet with his abiding respect for law and authority, he submitted to the treatment prescribed, and carried out with fidelity and exactness the instructions of the physicians. When some objection was made to a certain medicine, perhaps as nauseous, possibly as unnecessary, the General replied, “I must take it, the Doctor has ordered it.” Throughout his illness, at least during its earlier stages, he remained in command of his faculties. His occasional aberrations of mind were due to the influence of the medicines administered, not to failure of mental power. Like that grand heroic figure of the eighteenth century. Dr. Samuel Johnson, he desired to meet and did meet his Creator with an unclouded intellect. Above all, the supreme nobility of his moral nature prevailed unto the end. Through the temporary obscurations of mind induced by remedies, the clear light of the great spirit shone like a halo. Even when death was asserting the mastery over the physical organization, as well asthe intellectual perceptions, the supreme idealism of his moral nature still revealed its power.
During the afternoon of October 10 his symptoms assumed an alarming character; “the pulse became feeble and rapid, his breathing hurried, with other evidences of great exhaustion. About midnight he was seized with a shivering from extreme debility, and the attending physician felt constrained to announce the danger to the family. On October n he was evidently sinking; his respiration was hurried, his pulse feeble and rapid. Though less observant, he still recognized all that approached him, but refused to take anything unless prescribed by his physicians. It was now certain that the case was hopeless. His decline was rapid yet gentle; and soon after nine o'clock on the morning of October 12 he closed his eyes and his soul passed peacefully from earth.”
He is not dead! There is no death!
He only went before
His journey on when Christ The Lord
Wide open held the door.
And a calm celestial peace is his:
Thank Heaven! forevermore.
There scarcely exists a rational doubt that the death of Lee had its origin primarily and essentially in causes that lie within the moral sphere. Whatever may have been the nature of the disease contemplated from the standpoint of medical science, rheumatism, derangement of the heart, concussion of the brain, these were only the physical expression, the material medium by whose agency the great soul of our hero gave utterance to the moral agony which was slowly, resistlessly crushing out the life. In this regard his self-restraint, his absolute mastery of his own will is without a parallel in the annals of the world.
In no incident of his career did the loftiness of Lee's nature assert itself more impressively than in his attitude toward his colleague and former classmate, General Joseph E. Johnston. During the crisis of the campaign of 1864 General Johnston was removed from the command of the army opposing the advance of Sherman at Atlanta. Against this ill-timed and disastrous step Lee protested with an earnestness which he had probably never displayed in regard to any action of the Confederate Government during the progress of the war. “If General Johnston is not a soldier,” said Lee, “America has never produced one. If General Johnston is not competent to command that army the Confederacy has no one who is competent.” His protest was unheeded, his remonstrance disregarded, and the fatal result has long since passed into history. Had it been Lee himself whose fame and command were at stake, the silence would never have been broken by a word of remonstrance or even an intimation of disapproval. The voiceless agony that he endured for the errors, the blunders, and the malevolence of others died with him; the sublime repression of self failed not even unto the end.
Thoroughly did Lee merit the tribute bestowed upon him by the former President of the Confederate States at the Memorial Meeting held in Richmond, November 3, 1870. Said Mr. Davis: “ ‘Hitherto men have been honored when successful; but here is the case of one who, amid disaster, went down to his grave, and those who were his companions in misfortune have assembled to honor his memory. It is as much an honor to you who give as to him who receives; for above the vulgar test you show yourselves competent to judge between him who enjoys and him who deserves success. * * * He sleeps with the thousands who fought under the same flag, and happiest they who first offered their lives; he sleeps in the soil to him and to them most dear. That flag was furled when there was none to bear it; around it we are assembled, a remnant of the living to do honor to his memory, and there is an army of skeleton sentinels to keep watch above his grave. This good citizen, this gallant soldier, this great general, this true patriot, had yet a higher praise than this—he was a true Christian. The Christianity which ennobled his life gives us the consolatory belief that he is happy beyond the grave.’ As the voice of the orator rose and fell like the vibration of a bell, of perfect modulation, it sounded like a dirge for the glorious dead and an invocation to the faithful living.”
* * * * * *
During the five years of his Lexington life, though all the surge of passion flowing from the war was at its climax, and the fadeless infamy of reconstruction was attaining its fulness of time, Lee not even in the sanctity of his own home, in the communion of his own fireside, gave vent to an intemperate or acrimonious sentiment or uttered a single phrase which the implacable malice of his enemies could by sophistry or by distortion pervert to the accomplishment of their own base and ignoble ends. At what a pole of contrast does he stand in this regard to his triumphant antagonist. Lee had long entered into rest, and the white heat of the conflict might have been tempered by mere lapse of years at the time that Grant issued his “Memoirs,” 1885. Yet Grant's comments upon the personal character of Lee approach painfully near the language of hate, and are marked by a lack of discernment and discrimination that must forever exclude him from the catalogue of the truly great. In his estimate of Lee, not merely blindness in part, but total eclipse of judgment, seems to have fallen upon the champion of the cause of the Union.
All the stages of Lee's last illness were marked by the harmony, the self-restraint, the perfect equilibrium that graced every act of his life, whether on the dubious verge of battle, on the neck of crowned fortune, in the agony of Appomattox, or in the sweet aloofness of his home at Lexington. It formed the appropriate and decorous climax of a drama, such as the world has never seen, such as defies the imagination of the artist, and sets at naught all the spectacular pageantry and reproductive splendor of the modern stage. The faith that comes of self-control, the will strong as the result of a long life of discipline, unvanquished in the grasp of death; the character, like that of the Captain of his salvation, perfect through suffering. Death seemed to have wrought no change, for as he lay in the darkened room, a darkness made scarcely visible by the shadows of the lamp, or the glowing embers that teach light to counterfeit a gloom, all the knightly grace and beauty of his features retained their power; there was no fading away of luster, rather the coming of the end seemed to clothe with a strange and undiscerned radiance the form and face whose symmetry, massiveness, grace in every detail set forth the perfect miracle of perfect manhood. Truly it may be said of Lee, “Death has made his darkness beautiful with thee.”
As he approached the last stage, his mind, always normal, except when affected by the medicines administered, naturally wandered to those scenes of strife in which he had been the sovereign actor. “Strike the tent; tell Hill he must come up!” uttered with emphasis by a strange coincidence being almost the same words that fell from the lips of Jackson during his last moments—“Tell A. P. Hill to hurry up, to hurry up!” His utterances, though few, were coherent and continuous. While his silence was for the most part unbroken, when he spoke, his language was rational, relevant, and appropriate.
When unable to reply to questions prompted by love and affection, his gestures or his expression indicated that he understood their import. When his son, General Custis Lee, made some reference to his recovery, he merely “shook his head and pointed upward.” To other suggestions of reviving health he gave no sign of reply save to shake his head slowly and close his eyes. His great heart was broken with the overthrow of the South, for which he gave his life as thoroughly and cheerfully as those who fell in the forefront of battle, or died of long-drawn torture inflicted by captivity in the hands of the enemy.
During all the stages of his final illness not a single expression of impatience, petulance or anger fell from his lips. And of Lee, it may be said with intensity of emphasis, such as applies only to a rare and august company in the hero roll of the world, “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” The civilized world joined in expressions of reverence and acts of homage as his great light sank. Scarcely a jarring note fell upon the prevailing harmony. Former foes joined in the all-embracing eulogy; for a moment rancor and malice faded, envy and hatred for a space seemed to have been stilled; even the official slanderers of the South had apparently proclaimed a truce until the burial of our peerless champion. The finely cultured instinct of British journalists and reviewers discerned in our hero all the chivalric ideals, concretely realized, personally incarnate. There rises like a transcendent sun over the peaks and walls of the Valley, the long-sought Arthur, and the dream of the ages, passing from shadowy legend into achieved result, assumed in him the roseate luster of the golden day.
Nothing is here for tears, nothing to wail
Or knock the breast, no weakness, no contempt,
Dispraise or blame–nothing but well and fair
And what may quiet us in a death so noble.
Return to Life of Robert E. Lee as General in the Confederate Army